Will bring Maldives back on track to democracy: Mohammed Nasheed

Ahead of elections due in 2018, former Presidents Mohammed Nasheed and his once-arch rival Maumoon Abdul Gayoom have joined forces along with two other parties in a front against current President Abdulla Yameen. Speaking in an exclusive interview to Diplomatic Editor Suhasini Haidar over the telephone from Colombo, where he is at present in exile, Mr. Nasheed said the alliance is the only opportunity to ensure democracy in the island nation.

What does this alliance with former President Gayoom and leaders of two other parties mean?

Mr. Mohammed Nasheed: The idea is to bring the Maldives back on track to democracy. We want to repeal some of the draconian laws President Yameen has brought in, we would also want to reform the independent institutions, especially the Human Rights Council, the Election Commission, the Auditor General, the Anti-Corruption institution. But the first step would be to change the speaker of the house and we will bring a no-confidence motion to impeach the speaker and the Deputy Speaker. With the four of us joining together we would have a parliamentary majority, and we should be able to do this soon.

Will you go into elections together as an alliance as well?

We haven’t discussed that yet, but we are basically working for a free and fair election in 2018. We don’t think President Yameen has support of the people, so if the elections are fair, we don’t think he will win. We hope to remain together to the elections of course, but we have a number of hurdles to overcome before we talk about this. We are worried about our workers being arrested, President Gayoom’s son has been taken in for questioning five times in the past few weeks. This is a very tense period and we need to get through it day-by-day.

President Gayoom is the leader who sent you to prison twenty times over eight years in the 90s, and you seem to have forgiven him. He has broken with President Yameen, his half-brother because of personal differences. The Adaalath party is accused of being fundamentalist, fomenting Islamist extremism. Isn’t your alliance an opportunistic one?

In the past 15-20 months, the whole of the Maldives has gone through a lot, and we have new realities and understanding. I think this is an opportunity we shouldn’t pass up. We stand for freedom, democracy and basic human rights. If we don’t find common ground we would slip back to worse than what the country saw in the 1980s and 1990s. I’m sure our supporters understand. We have also been working with the Adaalath party for the past few months. Of course we have ideological differences, but the basic framework of our alliance is democracy and we see eye to eye on that.

The Saudi King cancelled his visit to the Maldives last week due to Opposition protests, leading to some criticism that the Opposition has stopped much needed investment from coming in….

We are still very worried that both Saudi Arabia and China have territorial interests in the Maldives. For the last 30 years, KSA has propagated a very narrow version of Islam in the Maldives, and now with this new venture, we know they have territorial interests. Our people want development, but not to sell an atoll (group of islands). There is a standard tender process which should be transparent. Why has the government not followed these processes? We don’t know what the Saudi king wants to invest in? This was all done in darkness, and that’s why we worry. Even if the government says it is a commercial project, we haven’t seen them come out in clear details what the investments are about.

You mentioned China too. What is the threat, specifically?

From where we sit, it’s obvious that if you want to ship good across the Indian ocean, you have to cross the Maldives. So it is clear that the Chinese, who want to that will want to have strategic interests here, and that is why there is a fear. We worry that we are also becoming a source for conflict between India and China. For stability in the Indian Ocean, you need a stable Maldives.

PM Modi put off his visit to the Maldives in 2015, and hasn’t rescheduled it yet. Why do you think that is?

It is very thoughtful of Mr. Modi that he hasn’t yet visited the Maldives, and the message that has gone out is very clear to the Yameen government. That as long as President Yameen insists on running the country as an autocrat, he cannot be a friend of India. I think it is important that India has given that message to President Yameen, and it’s very well done.

Beyond the messaging, what is your expectation from the Indian government?

I am sure India will read the writing on the wall from our alliance of the four parties of the Maldives, that we have the vast majority of people with us. They would understand that, and I am sure they will act accordingly. Most importantly they must press on President Yameen that he has to stop arresting members of the opposition and allow free elections. It is very important that India should make this clear.

Given those fears, can you go back to the Maldives now? How will you run for elections otherwise?

For the last one-and-a-half years I worked very hard to try and find common ground, and today we have an agenda, a legislative programme and we have a project. Of course it is very difficult to live in exile, and I would like to go home as soon as possible, and I think it won’t be long before I do it.

How soon would that be, given elections are due in 2018?

In good time for the elections is all I can say. I can’t give a more fixed time than that. I need to spend time with my family for now, but I am very confident that I will go back, and it will be in time for the elections.

Source URL: The Hindu

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