Malheur des Maldives
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IN OCTOBER 2008, a small chain of atolls in the Indian Ocean entered the world’s club of democracies. It had been a long time coming. The incoming government hailed a different kind of politics as its supporters lined up along the sea wall, celebrating the country’s new dawn.
But in recent months the Maldives’ fledgling democracy has proved to be self-incapacitating more than progressive. Fed up with an opposition-led parliament, which tends to block its every move, this week the archipelago’s entire cabinet resigned in protest. Political deadlock has ensued.
The president, Mohamed Nasheed, has stayed put, alongside his vice-president. He claims that an informal alliance of lawmakers is sabotaging his every proposal; an aide described it as “scorched-earth politics”. The opposition has already passed an amendment which allows it to veto every lending or leasing agreement made between the government and an overseas party. Thus in one fell swoop it was able to scupper Mr Nasheed’s planned privatisation of the capital’s airport and much else besides. Hopes for foreign investment—at the core of the new government’s ambitions and an essential part of its effort to plug the fiscal deficit—have been dashed. The parliamentary opposition had also threatened to kick out Mr Nasheed’s ministers one by one, through a series of no-confidence votes.
The way forward is unclear. Mr Nasheed does not have the power to dissolve parliament. Instead he is seeking to prosecute opposition MPs on charges of bribery, which smacks of the methods preferred by the ex-president he ousted, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Mr Nasheed, himself a former political prisoner who became all too familiar with life in detention under Mr Gayoom (you can see the future president getting the strong-arm treatment three minutes into this footage), should know better. His difficulty is that even the Supreme Court cannot be trusted to be impartial.
Whatever happens as the crisis rumbles on, preserving legitimacy will be crucial. Mr Nasheed came to power as a force for change: it would be dreadful to see him lead his wobbly new democracy of 350,000 citizens back to its darker days.