Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Maldives Continuing Political Crisis: Need For Cooperation And Compromise

Having realised that it is getting near impossible to conduct the affairs of the government in view of various restrictions in the present Constitution, President Nasheed is veering round to the view that a mid term election will be necessary to amend some articles of the constitution.

In his speech on the inauguration of independence day celebrations of 26th July, President Nasheed made many valid points that indicated his thinking on the future course to be taken in view of the political impasse created by the opposition with their majority.

When the parliament session was suspended on 2nd August to enable the MDP and the opposition to continue the talks to find a solution, the Speaker Abdulla Shahid called on all the members of the parliament to work in a spirit of compromise and cooperation. Cooperation and Compromise should have been the key and both are missing in Maldives now.

There is no doubt that the opposition could have been more accommodative. One commentator went to the extent of calling the opposition as a bunch of “assorted kleptocrats, dodgy businessmen and friends of ex president Gayoom.” While this may not apply to all the opposition members (some are really good ), there is some truth in this comment. There are many “entrenched” Gayoom’s men in all branches of the government who are suspected to be creating problems for the new government.

It must have become clear now to President Nasheed that without the backing of his parliament, the civil servants and the judiciary, he will not be able to implement his ambitious agenda and his promises to the people.

The President’s member in the judicial commission in an interview to the media said that in the present judiciary, a quarter of the bench possesses criminal records and many others have only primary school level education. Yet the Judicial service Commission with entrenched Gayoom’s men has reappointed 160 of the judges a few days ago.

The irony of it is that Article 285 of the Constitution provides a deadline of August 7, 2010 for reappointment of judges after which only Article 154 a and b would apply. Under the latter article, a judge can be removed for incompetence or gross misconduct only if passed by a two third majority of the members of the Majlis present and voting.

Bills relating to Human rights commission, Judicial commission and Civil service commission are all pending in the parliament and will have to be passed before 7th of August, the deadline provided under the transitory arrangements given in the Constitution. The Majlis is still seized with the bills.

To go back to the President’s speech on 26th July, he said

It is a greater national duty for him to free the country from the suspicions in the hearts of the people that bribery and corruption have taken roots in the legislature and the judiciary.
Officials connected to a previous regime continue to remain in the executive, courts and other institutions. ( this is his problem though initially he was optimistic that they would mend their ways)
For a long term solution to the current political impasse, it is essential to strengthen the constitution and as a long term solution, there is a need to amend some articles of the constitution.
He is ready to give way for any election required in order to bring in the amendments.

Two days earlier, on the day Abdulla Yaameen, the opposition leader was released, there was a very valuable advice in the press and this needs to be quoted. “ There is no alternative to talks as an immediate measure on strengthening institutions of horizontal accountability such as Anti corruption commission, the Audit Office and the Judiciary for the long haul. The comment ended with the words “Get prepared for painful compromises in the short term.”

This is the dilemma President Nasheed is facing. He is a young President of integrity and in a hurry. At the same time he has to sustain and get the young democracy take deep roots to ensure that authoritarianism never returns.

Will he be able to go for compromises? This is what he was trying in the last few days in getting his party meet the leaders of opposition in three rounds of talks.

The first session took place on 26th of July. The ruling party was represented by its chairperson Mariya Ahmed Did, Moosa Maniku, leader of the parliamentary group and another Ibrahim Mohamed Sole. The opposition was represented by Thasmeen Ali, leader of DRP and a successor to Gayoom in the party, Abdulla Yaameen, Gayoom’s half brother and leader of PA ( he was just released on 24th), Qasim Ibrahim, leader of Jhumhoree party ( also arrested earlier) and Dr. Hassan Saeed, leader of DQP.

While the MDP wanted endorsement of the entire cabinet, the opposition group wanted many things including non interference in independent commissions ( since they are already influenced by them), - but the most crucial one was that they would agree to amendments provided mid term elections are held soon after that. Since they are in a majority in the parliament they would demand re-election for the president only.

In the third session held on 2nd August, the MDP in turn wanted ten points of theirs to be considered first.

President Nasheed had already hinted that he is prepared to hold mid term elections if the opposition agrees to amend the constitution and reelect parliament too.

The British High Commissioner to Maldives in his courtesy call on the President said on 29th that as a long term solution, the constitution will have to be amended to rectify elements that led to the current political crisis. An UN mission led by Tamrat Samuel heading the department of Political Affairs visited Maldives for two days on 31st July and 1st August and met the leaders of the main political parties, NGOs and government officials and discussed the current situation.

The Special Adviser to President Nasheed, Zaki is said to be in India, perhaps to discuss the current political impasse.

The best way would be for making the amendments, including extension of the transition arrangements and go for fresh elections that should necessarily include the parliament too. This is a costly affair but appears inevitable unless there is a change of mind in the opposition ranks.

Some say that President Nasheed should have gone in for a “Truth & Reconciliation” Commission as was done in South Africa. But it is too late now.


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