Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Coming out of the closet

When MDP's official press Minivan News announced that Mohamed Nasheed, or Anni, was quitting as chairman of the party to enter the presidential rat race, nobody was surprised. It's well known that Anni was always a closet presidential hopeful and, as the only thing keeping his disintegrating party together, this may be the right and inevitable move. Unfortunately, Anni is not the exciting political upstart he was in the early 1990s and his speeches and tactics no longer resonate with the populace as they did, say, even three years ago.

He is, of course, a better choice than Munavvar or Zaki, but Hassan Saeed and Ibra?

Hassand Saeed is courageous in the way he stands up to the religious right, genuinely seeming to embody liberal views, but he is yet to come clean on his part in Gayoom's crackdown on dissent. Ibra is charismatic, and a great orator, but as the founder of a party that calls itself the social "liberal" party, his lack of support in the constitutional assembly for gender equality leaves much to be desired.

Anni should be credited with much of the change taking place in the Maldives now. He played a crucial role in mobilising international intervention against Gayoom's atrocities, his courage and fighting spirit have been an inspiration for the younger generation, and he may be the sole force holding together the country's largest opposition party.

But his inability to take criticism, his patronising attitude towards people, and his distortion of the truth for political convenience need to be taken into consideration. His lazy responses to questions regarding MDP policy, or the lack of any, are also a bit of a joke. "Get Gayoom out" seems to be his policy for everything. 

It's taken Anni a long time to come out of the closet. Ironically, in that time, he may have grown more like the man he wants to get rid of.

The Maldivian hunt for an Obama is still on.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Gayoom's Nasir complex

People can't have failed to notice that Gayoom has a Nasir-complex. 

Ibrahim Nasir, the second president of the Maldives was a man of vision and didn't hanker after attention like Gayoom. Much of the wealth achieved by this country, that Gayoom takes credit for, was in fact due to Nasir's far-thinking economic policies and implementation. 

Unlike Gayoom, Nasir knew when he had outlived people's support and exited gracefully, paving the way for the Egypt-educated young(er) man. When Gayoom gleefully assumed power, illegally it seems, if his own admissions of having carried a firearm to the swearing in are to be believed, he inherited, amongst other things, an international airport, a tourism industry, and a high-quality fish processing plant that were already earning huge foreign revenues. 

The narcissistic Gayoom, on the other hand, was more interested in showing off his supposed intellectual abilities to his ignorant brothers-in-law and a horde of cronies, all of who played on his gigantic conceit for personal gains. It is said that Gayoom would gaze at the night sky and quote the distances between the earth and the moon and the stars, which enormously impressed his barely-literate audience. Gayoom's love for trivia-dropping now mostly manifests itself in the Heyyambo riddles, an avenue for the fast-deteriorating dictator to still feel he has something of an intellect.

Although Gayoom was initially all praise for his predecessor who, in fact, helped him get the top job, he soon started using the nation's resources in an attempt to lower the status of a man he obviously felt inferior to. Using people who would do anything for money and power, Gayoom launched a massive campaign to undermine people's admiration for Nasir. Stories of the ex-president's supposed  pilfering of the nation's wealth, manufactured with the help of Gogo Latheef, co-founder of the MDP, who is said to have got a resort for his trouble, resulted in a threat of lawsuit by Nasir's lawyers. 

Gayoom's government was forced to stop the circulation of stories about Nasir's thefts, so it commissioned cheap cartoons, mostly drawn by Chiliya Moosa Manik, and low-grade music albums to spout abuse on the former president. Abbas Ibrahim was instrumental in the production of this cheap culture for Gayoom, and it's no coincidence that no significant cultural creation has emerged during Gayoom's dictatorship.

Gayoom also commissioned songs, articles, and books praising himself, to cover his increasingly apparent lack of vision and innovation. The president's office would fund government schools like CHSE to send congratulatory cards to Gayoom. It is said he even wrote a few songs himself. 

Nasir has survived despite Gayoom's many attempts to character-assassinate him. Look at Nasir's photo and you can understand why he is regarded as an enigmatic leader, a man of integrity, and the person who laid the foundation for the wealth Gayoom and his cronies are today pocketing for themselves. Look at Gayoom's photo and you see a practically decomposing dictator struggling to still be valid in a country and a world that can't wait to see the back of him.

Gayoom may have succeeded in demolishing Velaanaage, Ibrahim Nasir's property in the centre of Male, but he will always pale in comparison to the his predecessor.

MDP double standards

One of the reasons MDP may not have been able to draw on the considerable opposition to Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in post-Eavan Naseem Maldives is their own double standards.

When Hassan Saeed and co resigned from Gayoom's government MDP suporters, who had only the day before heckled them at a debate organised by the newspaper Haveeru, couldn't hold back their joy. But when Saeed's growing popularity became a threat, MDP members began to call for Saeed to publicly apologise for his actions while he was part of the regime, a demand they never bothered make on their own president and vice-president.

Mohamed Munavvar and Ibrahim Hussein Zaki in their time with Gayoom opposed all democratic reforms and, less than a week after police murdered inmates of Maafushi prison, supported the dictator, then also head of police, in his bid for a fifth term in office.

Accusations of corruption leveled at the two have never been answered satisfactorily and it should be noted that Munavvar is the architect of the flawed constitution currently taking so much resources and time to ammend. To my knowledge neither have said sorry in public for anything they've done while with Gayoom. After Sandhaanu Zaki dramatically shouted at Munavvar, at his MDP leadership campaign, that he was responsible for the online editor's years of torture and suffering, the former attorney was forced to come up with with a half-hearted explanation. Apparently, Gayoom forced him to do all the bad things he did in office, while he was fully responsible for all the good things. In a laughable early speech at an MDP rally Munavvar blamed Gayoom for the constitution but took the credit for himself for creating the law school.

Unlike the New Maldives trio, the Old Maldives duo did not resign from office. They joined MDP when they were sacked by Gayoom and had no other option.

When the two made their way into the inner workings of MDP, the party had an indisputable command over the vast majority of Maldivians. But under their power, that command has diminished, the party has lost many of the key persons who helped to set it up, and MDP today is a fragmented entity given to emulating Gayoom tactics on the populace of the Maldives. The latest, the ridiculous Arumaaz trips, are a case in point.

That MDP couldn't come up with a decent opposition figurehead of its own to lead Maldivians into a post-Gayoom era has meant they have over-relied on the dictator's discards, which may have cost the party irreparable damage.