Sunday, August 24, 2008

Gasim, Gayoom and the great Maldives election

With the emergence of Gasim in the presidential lineup, Gayoom's 30-year-dictatorship is looking more threatened than it ever did. Of the 8 candidates contesting this year's presidential elections here's a list of the only contenders who, to my mind, have any chance of swinging the first multi-party elections of the Maldives.

1)Gasim Ibrahim
Filthy rich Gasim has the resources, the people, and the willpower to get the job done. Yes, he may employ questionable methods to achieve his goal, whether it means buying parliamentarians or voters themselves. But nobody can argue that his chances of success are very high indeed. As much as half the Maldives population may have benefited directly or indirectly from his health handouts or educational grants. Now, Gasim is effectively asking them to pay him back by voting for him. On the positive side, he's less despised than Gayoom, has more vision, and has qualified and experienced people working on his campaign.

2)Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Regarded by most Maldivians as a washed out dictator and an object of ridicule, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, nevertheless, thinks of himself as smart, handsome, young at heart, and loved by the people. This man continues to use state funds, TV, radio, and even the national football team for his campaign. He still has control over the armed forces, and has his stooges as Island Chiefs and Atoll Chiefs although the level of their influence over ordinary islanders has diminished somewhat. If Mohamed Amin modernised the Maldives through education and social change, Ibrahim Nasir continued the gains by laying the foundations for the country's greatest foreign exchange earners: tourism and fisheries. Gayoom basked in the results of the work of his predecessors but lacked the vision to build on it. On the positive I can't think of anything good to say about him!

Gayoom will be remembered as the corrupt dictator who tried to crush every attempt by the people to bring democracy; the man who sanctioned the torture and killing of defenseless Maldivians; the advocate of child sexual abuse; and, most important of all, the bad cricket player.

Anni shone in the early 90, a true radical, unafraid to take on Gayoom's cruel and corrupt dictatorship to fight for democracy and justice. His work to expose Gayoom's dictatorship to the wider world is also commendable. But his misguided pandering to the religious right is downright shameful. He has ignored the role of women in the opposition movement, and in the formation and day to day running of MDP; gender equality is not part of either his "Clean Maldives" or his "Other Maldives". He lies when it suits him, patronizes ordinary people, and finds it hard to listen to anyone who disagrees with his views.

MDP today is a fragmented movement that has lost the ideals it stood for, ideals which were rooted in a widespread desire for democracy and human rights. Lately, Anni has taken to harping on Gayoom's positive contribution to the country and insists that the dictator can run for a seventh term in office, even though the amended constitution limits leadership to two terms in office. In return, Gayoom's apologist, information minister, and hearty blogger Nasheed has said the government does not consider Anni's sentence for petty theft a disqualification for his presidential bid. All very cozy indeed, but Anni may only be joining the enemy to fight Gasim.

One of the first casualties of Anni's "dictatorship", Ibra is a brilliant orator who is slowly and steadily winning the confidence of the public. His unwavering contribution to amending the constitution, a process which he rightly called the slow, systematic stripping of Gayoom's powers, must be lauded. Unfortunately, like Anni, he never found the right balance between the contradictory ideologies of the religious right on the one hand and human rights on the other. Ibra also probably doesn't have the finances to push an aggressive campaign to get himself elected.

4)Hassan Saeed
I really liked this man, as he stood for liberal ideals such as the freedom of religion, a fundamental human right. He stood up not only against Gayoom, but also extremists, something Anni and Ibra were too spineless to do. But he's also said to be a bit of an elitist and out of touch with ordinary people. Lately he's been heard a lot on radio and has reportedly built himself quite a fan-base. Nevertheless, his campaign, like Ibra's, just isn't aggressive enough to win a substantial electorate at this point of time.

So what does the future hold for us?

As things stand I predict a close win for Gasim. This will get Gayoom out, but will leave the country in the hands of unscrupulous, capitalist who will not only control its wealth and its parliament, but will also by the country's fledgeling media.

There's a way out, however, and that is for Anni, Ibra and Hassan join forces. If they launch a joint campaign, have elections pushed back to December as Ibra suggests, they may, just may, win the hearts and minds of the Maldivian public, if not fill their pockets.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

MDP's step backward

Last week saw Maldivian Democratic Party MDP step back, yet again, on its stated commitment to gender equality. 

Shortly after presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed Anni announced Dr. Aminath Jameel as his running mate, the party's religious right reportedly went into a diatribe against the nomination. It didn't seem to take too long to convince Anni to withdraw the nomination.

The party's Islamic consultative council, headed by Adam BA Naseem, declared the nomination un-Islamic but failed, as usual, to provide any evidence for the pronouncement. Naseem and fellow-misogynists from the Adhaalath Party have a history of openly hurtling anti-women rants on the populace in the name of Islam, without necessarily furnishing a supporting argument. In fact Islamic scholarship is producing a number of academics who are successfully challenging conventional positions. But when people like Dr. Afraasheem Ali and, belatedly, Dr. Hassan Saeed, try to present alternative interpretations, BA Naseem and co are unable to argue convincingly against them and, as a result, resort to name-calling. In some cases, hardline 'scholars' have even called for the death of people's whose views they're incapable of debating. 

These marginally qualified 'scholars' have only been able get their way in the "reform process" because of spineless politicians like Anni, who seem more fearful of offending a handful of Adhaalath supporters than safeguarding the rights of half of the country's population.

There will be those who jump at my dismissal of  Adhaalath supporters. But even from a political point of view, they're not substantial enough to justify the surrendering of basic human rights. If these people comprised a significant proportion of the population, the Adhaalath Party and the Islamic Democratic Party would have the highest number of members, not the DRP and the MDP.

Many MDP sympathisers say they are 'disappointed' with  Anni, and also Dr. Aminath Jameel and Maria for putting up with his shameful behaviour. But they should remember that MDP, despite professing otherwise, has a very poor record with regard to gender equality.

Early in 2007, the MDP's religious consultative council issued a fatwa against the party's assistant secretary Aishath Aniya, for an article in which she criticised 'scholars' for trying to lower the status of women through misogynistic interpretations of Islam. She was forced to go into hiding and resign from her post, while Anni and the party's president Munavvar didn't utter a word in public in support of Aniya's right to the freedom of expression. 

Also in 2007, BA Naseem threatened to leave the party because of its support for the appointment of female judges, but Anni put his foot down. "The policies of our party are very clear," he told "All men are equal." 

The professed commitment to equality didn't stop MDP members from proposing an amendment to the constitution to bar women from running for presidency, which received the support of 'reformist' Mohamed Shihab and an abstinence by 'liberal' Ibra. Fortunately, Gayoom's unelected members defeated the motion and Maldivian women can now run for leadership, a right which the MDP did not want them to have. 

In defense, MDP members have tried to throw the tired argument that gender equality is secondary at a time when all effort must go into getting Gayoom out. All indications are, however, that MDP may lack the tactics or the resources for even its number one task.  

All is not lost though. Buruma Gasim and his Republican Party are reportedly buying all the politicians and voters necessary to dethrone Gayoom. If they succeed, MDP will become as 'insignificant' as the gender issue it tried to push under the carpet.