Kennedy Graham

Maldives: How to condone regime change….

by Kennedy Graham

Nothing is simple under the Sun.  Just when you thought democracy was safe at home in the Maldives, along comes unconstitutional regime change.  And there is some concern that UN leaders are tempted to condone it.  So what does the NZ Government think? Ahem, not much.

Since independence, Maldives effectively maintained a single-party system until very recently.  President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom remained in office for 30 years, re-elected six times by referendum as the sole candidate – internationally well-known; legitimacy assumed or disregarded.

The post-Cold War democracy movement left the Maldives unmoved.  It took 15 more years for a multi-party system, and genuine presidential elections to be held, under international observation, in 2008, with parliamentary elections in ’09.

Gayoom stood again. His challenger, Mohamed Nasheed, a 44-year-old journalist and environmental activist, had enjoyed years of incarceration and exile in controversial circumstances during the Gayoom rule. They are not exactly close.  Nasheed won, and has governed since late ’08.

A mixture of religious intensity and economic difficulty has made Maldivian politics fragile since then. The Maldives is not the only country to be experiencing riots in today’s financially neurotic world.  But the army and the police fell out, and Nasheed resigned, and his Vice-President, from Nasheed’s coalition but a different party, was sworn in.  Nasheed has subsequently alleged that his resignation was coerced.  He has since been physically maltreated and has earned a new arrest warrant.

The question is whether the transfer of power was legitimate or not.  No doubt the new regime will invoke the ‘doctrine of necessity’, as with Musharraf in Pakistan and Bainimarama in Fiji – not the most reassuring of precedents.  But it has to be queried whether the transfer is legitimate, given the charges of the deposed president.

It is a tough call for world leaders – recognise the regime change permanently; recognise it temporarily, pending new elections; or withhold recognition and enforce the reinstatement of the elected president (through all necessary means, as in Haiti in the ‘90s…).

The UN Secretary-General hopes (8 Feb.) that the ‘hand-over of power’, which “has been announced as a constitutional step” to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the on-going political crisis.  He has acknowledged Nasheed’s “important contribution … to the establishment of democracy” – a salute into the sunset….  His Assistant Secretary-General, following a quick visit, concludes there are ‘no external solutions’ – code: no military intervention from outside – USA, India, whoever.

So UN leaders, along with the IPU President, are confining themselves to appeals for ‘inclusive political dialogue, non-violence, restraint and stability’. Thus are coups consolidated.

The NZ Government, of course, has said nothing about a policy: one small country to another…..  pleasantries all round…. check out what Washington has said….

We were all a bit more clear-eyed over Fiji.  The extra kilometres change nothing.  Both are members of the Commonwealth – and Fiji is suspended.

I urge the NZ Government to call for the following:

-       An end to violent police retribution against members of parliament and civilians;

-       An international investigation of the circumstances that led to the change of government;

-       A pledge for new elections within 6 months, failing which, suspension from the Commonwealth;

-       Supervision of the elections by the UN, observed by the Commonwealth, to ensure their fairness and integrity.

Published in Justice & Democracy by Kennedy Graham on Thu, February 16th, 2012   

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