Maldives first democratically elected President and the leader of the opposition, Mohamed Nasheed, expresses deep concerns over lack of concerted and meaningful effort by the international community to prevent serious political conflict in the Maldives following a complete reversal to authoritarianism under President Abdulla Yameen.
Following the 2013 presidential elections, that was repeatedly delayed, cancelled and manipulated by the Supreme Court and state authorities, the government of Maldives has not only ignored calls by the international community for reform, but has passed anti-democratic legislation that undermines the fundamental principles of democracy, and prevents any chance of free and fair elections. This legislation passed by the parliament, which is directly controlled by the President, gives no confidence a free and fair election in the Maldives will be held under the current regime.
While international organisations have consistently condemned the actions of the government of Maldives, these messages have clearly failed to impress upon the government to bring about democratic change. In the run up to 2013 presidential elections, the European Union, the Commonwealth, US Government, British Government and international organisations put pressure on the Maldives to ensure inclusive elections must be held to ensure legitimacy of the government. International partners said that it was unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date. Statements also reiterated that political parties must have the freedom to have a candidate of their choosing. Further commenting on the electoral processes international community’s reports highlighted issues including vote buying, lack of separation of powers and independence of oversight bodies.
Since the 2013 presidential election, the situation has worsened. The jailing of all opposition leaders, complete paralysis of the multi party system, outright politicisation of oversight bodies, blatant corruption involving the state and banning of free speech and press freedom gives no confidence that things will improve in the future. All these issues have been compounded by a politically compromised judiciary, whose absolute lack of moral and professional integrity has been well documented.
Heavy executive influence in the judiciary and the Parliament has resulted in the changing of dates of the upcoming local council election after a complaint was filed by President Yameen’s faction of the ruling party, changing of laws that allows voters to draw symbols on the ballot paper, and new legislation that disbars individuals from contesting in elections independently if they have lost a Party primary. The lack of independent oversight bodies including the elections commission are systematic designs of an authoritarian state.
The socio-economic situation of the Maldives will further deepen the authoritarian state. Last year, the Maldives’ economy only grew by 1.9%. It is the second worst in the region where national debt is over 80% of the GDP and faces serious financial sector challenges. Maldives’ budget and current account deficits are gaping and investor confidence and prospect for economic development remain low, especially in light of the Government’s history in terminating contracts, and the refusal to address or hold accountable those responsible for money laundering and corruption.
The Maldives has ratified major international human rights treaties and instruments relating to the conduct of elections and has violated them regularly. The continued failure of the international community to constructively engage on Maldives’ issues will adversely affect the stability of the region.
Taking note of the current situation, it is deeply regrettable that the international community has ignored the alarming situation in the Maldives, allowing the reversal of hard fought democratic reforms in a country they once hailed as a success story. Today – a melting pot of rising religious extremism, a precarious economy, soaring youth unemployment, an increasingly insecure electorate combined with a Government dogmatically shifting away from traditional international partners, makes the Maldives a volatile crisis that the community of democracies must not ignore.