Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Pension and protection

Defeated dictator Gayoom is wasting no time securing his own interests. Following his loss in the country's first ever elections in 30 years that the dictator did not rig, Gayoom invited president-elect Anni to his office to discuss, officially, smooth transition. 

In fact he was trying to save face and protect himself from a population which for three decades he persecuted.

In a joint press-conference, Anni called Gayoom "one of the most important leaders of this country" and suggested that his government would not go on a witchhunt or dig the past. Thirty years ago Gayoom did the opposite.

Asia's longest serving dictator caused unprecedented misery to the family and in-laws of predecessor Ibrahim Nasir, after he took office in 1978. He framed Nasir's in-laws of plotting a coup attempt, threw them into prison, including women, and had them tortured, bound and dragged round the streets of Male. For details check out prisoner of conscience Luthfy's YouTube messages.

For years Gayoom stifled dissent by locking up dissenters and torturing them. One of the earliest of his victims was Sheikh Ahmed Adam. Most of the journalists involved in the short-lived opposition press of the early 1990s were jailed and persecuted. Just before Gayoom took office for this last term, his police beat to death a prison inmate, Hassan Eavan Naseem, and shot at point blank range others who protested against it. Although he was head of police, the dictator never apologised to the families of the victims. Indeed shortly after the incident, he promoted senior police officers in a function held to mark the anniversary of the armed forces.

It was Eavan's death that exposed Gayoom's torturous regime first hand to Maldivians and the wider world. In Male people took to the streets leading to the formation of the opposition movement. The dictator continued to lock up any opposition to his rule and it was only when the EU threatened to boycott representatives of his government from entering its territories that he relented. 

But Gayoom today does not want to remember any of this choosing, instead, to brag how he introduced a modern liberal democracy to this country. Never one to shy away from blowing his own trumpet, Gayoom is remaining true to his character even in defeat. He called his contribution "the greatest legacy anyone can give." No mention was made of the findings of the auditor general's recent report on Gayoom's spending of his office budget. When someone mentioned the tsunami funds the dictator is alleged to have stolen, Anni brushed it off and said it hadn't been proved. 

I'm not sure what the many who bravely stood up for their rights, enduring Gayoom's brutality in the process, will make of all this. 

Meanwhile Gayoom likened losing the election to losing a game: "Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose."

Anni is remarkable if he can forgive and forget Gayoom for everything he's done. It remains to be seen, however, whether the rest of the Maldivians, especially those that suffered and have still been unable to clear their names, will follow his example.

President-elect Anni seems to appealing to people to treat the fallen dictator with honour and dignity. Many would argue that Gayoom has none.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Democracy wins

As a new day breaks, bathing the nation's capital in glorious sunshine, Maldivians are also waking up to the prospect of their first new president in 30 years.

At 7.00am, all the ballot boxes had been counted and Anni had a 54.21 percent lead over Gayoom, who got 45.79 percent of the votes in a final round of elections which has had a voter turnout of 86.58 percent. is reporting that Anni and Gayoom are having early morning talks about the handover, which suggests things are not going to be volatile like people feared. But it is difficult to imagine that a dictator with Gayoom's history, does not have a final trick up his sleeve. Many thought a military coup was in the offing, but it hasn't happened yet.

Although Anni is right to work with Gayoom to ensure a smooth transition, he must not accept any conditions from the fallen dictator. The new government has more important things on its hand, but it is likely that families who suffered under the dictator will want to hold him accountable, before the country can really move on.

Anni is also inheriting monumental problems from Gayoom, including high levels of corruption, drugs, youth and gang warfare, and a fractured society that may take some time to adapt to democracy. Then there's the question of what to do with religious hardliners who want to establish a clerical body, as in Iran, to oversee Islam in the Maldives and to control everything else in the process.

By voting for Anni, Maldivians have voted for democracy and human rights, and in the hope of a better quality of life.

But we must never again hold back criticism and lavish praise on a leader so that they forget that they are servants of the people. Many who today are with Anni know this all too well because they made the same mistake with Gayoom.

Dissent must never die.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Breaking news: another case of prisoner abuse

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is currently promising huge sums of money to the parents of an abused prisoner, to silence them in the final days remaining for the final round of votes.

Abdul Latheef, the young prisoner who is in his mid-20s, is said to be recovering from surgery on a broken collar-bone. He might have sustained the injury more than two months ago, from severe torture by prison guards, say sources, but police tried to treat him in prison.

It is now certain that Gayoom knew of custodial and prisoner abuse, even sanctioned it to curb dissent. Early victims include Maizan Ali Manik, the father of popular singer Fasy, and Masodi Ahmed Naseem.

In 2003 Gayoom, who was the head of police, could have stopped the murder of Hassan Eevan Naseem. Police officer Ashwan wrote a comprehensive report on torture in Maafushi prison and sent copies to Gayoom, Adam Zahir, and Ambary Abdul Sattar. None took action and a few months later Eevan Naseem was dead.

Gender minister Aishath Mohamed Didi and legal reform minister Mohamed Nasheed knew about Ashwan's report as they were part of of the commission which investigated the murder of Eevan Naseem and other inmates. But Gayoom effectively silenced them with the cabinet portfolios and other undisclosed benefits.

Well-known writer and historian Ahmed Shafeeg, who was himself tortured in prison for mocking Gayoom in a personal diary, says he has catalogued at least 111 custodial deaths during the dictatorship.

While MDP have been talking about reconciliation and forgiveness, it is unlikely that the families of the victims will forget what Gayoom and Adam Zahir did, or how Aishath Didi and Nasheed helped to protect them.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Adhaalath stake

After prostituting itself from party to party, the Adhalath Party is now trying to get back into bed with the Maldivian Demorcratic Party, and bragging about its supposed "stake" in an MDP government. But the religious conservative party, which does not even have enough support to function independently as a political party, had lost face somewhat in the run up to the first round of elections.

The Adhaalath Party enjoyed some support when it was first formed, probably for the melodramatic anti-Gayoom rants by its scholars thrown at a populace fed up of nearly three decades of the dictatorship. But the novelty wore off as Adhaalath slowly settled down to its staple themes of misogyny and women's clothing. It is said that no Adhaalath meeting takes place without a mention of the buruga.

But the democratic mood sweeping across the nation was at odds with the Adhaalath ideology. Women were an active, integral part of the demonstrations against Gayoom, and gender discrimination was slowly evaporating from the legislature. Despite vehement opposition by the Adhaalath Party and the MDP's own resident misogynist BA Ahmed Naseem, the constitution was amended to allow women not only to take up the post of magistrate but also the top job itself.

Finding itself increasingly out of touch in the shifting social and political dynamics, Adhaalath was silenced for a while. But the party soon started to tread on trickier ground by criticising Hassan Saeed's book Apostasy and Islam, even as its scholars failed to argue convincingly against the principal premise of that academic work. Having lost the argument, there was a point when Adhaalath was even supporting Saeed for president, before migrating to the Republican Party and all the money that the endorsement entailed. 

However, with the opening up of the media and greater audience interaction, scholars of the Adhaalath Party found itself embroiled in yet another crisis. On their live shows, orrdinary citizens were irreverently questioning their positions and openly expressing contempt. The Party, which for so long had exploited people's fear and ignorance of religion, was not in the habit of having to provide evidence for its sweeping statements. 

But their biggest defeat came when they challenged Gayoom in the Supreme Court with claims that the dictator was not a Sunni Muslim and, therefore, ineligible to run for office. Liberal scholars in Gayoom's payroll, however, easily tore into the arguments of Adaalath's Hussein Rasheed Ahmed and Abdul Majeed Bari. An observer remarked: "They didn't have either the academic background or the debating power to argue against Gubaad Abu Bakur and Afrasheem Ali." Fortunately for Adhaalath,  their humiliating defeat was not publicised too much.

The Adhaalath Party was subjected to further ridicule when it stated its reason for endorsing the Republican Party. Gasim Ibrahim, they claimed, had demonstrated that he could "control" four wives and, therefore, could run a country. In the event, the Adhalath's professed influence over the electorate was not so great after all; Gasim secured less votes than Hassan Saeed in the first round of elections.

With the formation of the coalition, the MDP have unwittingly inherited the Adhaalath Party. Although the support of the religious conservatives may serve as a useful counter-argument to Gayoom's allegations that the opposition party is Christian, MDP insiders are saying the Adhaalath Party is more a headache than a blessing. 

While the MDP want to be seen as a champion of democracy and human rights, they also want the conservative vote. Maintaining a balance can be challenging and Adhaalath are not helping with their persistent and, unconstitutional, rhetoric. 

Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari recently said that women can be teachers, doctors and counsellors but not the leader of a country because "it is directly against Islam". But a position paper presented by the government of Saudi Arabia at the UN Conference on women in Beijing in 1996 stated that: "There is absolutely nothing in the Quran which directly or indirectly forbids a woman to become the head of a state, or even suggests that she is essentially incompetent for the position."

The Adhaalath Party are also unable to keep quiet about the role they think they will have in a future government. The MDP have pledged to create an independent council of Islamic affairs and the Adhaalath Party obviously want to head that body. But the Adhaalath's vision of the council may differ to MDP's. 

The religious conservative party in 2006 called for a free and independent scholars council "that has priority over all the powers of the state." Moreover, the party's Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has said that he supports the direct implementation of "hadd" punishments under Shariah Law, including the death penalty for apostasy if the person in question fails to re-convert.

But Maldivians have historically opposed "hadd" punishment and the death penalty. Indeed, no such punishment has been carried out in the country since the 1950s. The Maldives can also boast of having had one of first Islamic heads of state in the world, several centuries ago. 

But a group of failed, incompetent misogynists is now vying to turn the clock back. They have shown that they will sleep with anyone to reclaim a position of power in the new government.  

Where political prostitution goes the Adhaalath Party is the biggest slut in the Maldives.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cash for votes

It is emerging that Gayoom may have bought votes in the first round. Islanders of Hulhudhoo, Seenu Atoll, have reported to Minivan News that DRP representatives paid them 100-500 Rufiyaa to vote for the dictator. Meanwhile, there are similar allegations in Hulhumale, where MDP supporters claim to have seen Leela, a DRP supporter, paying out 500 Rufiyaa bills to residents to vote for Gayoom. In both cases, it appears that female DRP representatives have targeted mainly women voters.

An old hand at vote-rigging from a southern atoll, who has now defected to MDP, told me that a sizeable percentage of Gayoom's votes may have come from female voters. According to him, women's development committees were used by Gayoom on the eve of the elections to bribe women to vote for him. Blogger Abdulla Waheed has estimated that Gayoom may have got up to 20,000 votes through the work of loyal supporters in the island administration and the women's committees. 

According to senior officials of island administrations, semi-governmental organisations such as the women's committees and the island development committee habitually rig elections. Indeed, that may be the sole reason for their existence. 

The auditor general has also pointed out, in his latest report, that Gayoom made several appointments to the posts of atoll chief, deputy atoll chief and assistant atoll chief in the run-up to the elections. According to the auditor general, the appointments were made "to promote DRP's presidential campaign."

Attorney general Azima Shukoor vehemently denied the auditor general's findings, while her brother Athif Shukoor, the DRP media manager, has said complaints regarding vote-buying, illegal under the new constitution, should be "officially lodged at the appropriate bodies."

While both the Shukoors hold high offices in the Gayoom government, their father is a beneficiary of the controversial "loans" scheme operated by the president's office and uncovered by the magazine Adduvas two years ago. 

The auditor general has now called for an immediate cessation to the issuing of loans by the president's office.

The Shukoors are typical of DRP supporters, people who only rally behind Gayoom for money, loans, or high government posts.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Gayoom audit

The auditor general's audit of the president's office is so damaging that it may cost Gayoom the presidency. Maldivians have long known of the dictator's use of state funds to amass the wealth of his friends and family and to sustain the dictatorship, but this report provides the actual evidence needed to remove the man from office and out of running. 

According to the report the president's office has issued loans of millions of dollars to unspecified individuals and parties of which close to 4 million US dollars have not been paid back.

The report also reveals that the president's office made cash payments of more than half a million US dollars to two individuals in the armed forces most of it for undisclosed "government needs". The individuals may well be Anbaree Abdul Sattar and Adam Zahir, or the "chief torturer", believed by many to have been instrumental in setting up the culture of torture that has physically and psychologically abused Gayoom's opponents, even killed them, in Maldives prisons.

The auditor general has described these loans as politically influenced, warning that getting the money back will be tough.

The president's office, it emerged, has also been bribing the newspapers Haveeru, Afathis, and Miadhu.

But the most damaging thing in the report is the disclosure that the auditor general is currently investigating Gayoom himself: his possessions, money, business interests and loans.

This is political dynamite and MDP and New Maldives have already made statements in response to the report while former attorney general Azima Shukoor was on TV, at the time of writing this post, unsuccessfully trying to defend the dictator.

The opposition, including MDP who have been too soft on Gayoom lately, must call on the prosecutor general to take action against Gayoom.

This is no time for reconciliation. Gayoom must face justice for what he has done.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Anni or Hassan Saeed?

The way I see things, either Anni or Hassan Saeed may win the presidential race, with Gayoom and Ibra following close behind. Umar Naseer, to my mind, will sink to the bottom with Gasim for company.

These are extremely subjective predictions based solely on intuition and observation.

I think the turning point came with the live broadcasting of a Q&A involving all presidential hopefuls, in which Hassan Saeed shone, Anni was tame, Ibra spoke well, and Gayoom, Gasim and Umar Naseer slipped into insignificance.

Since a previous post in which I said Gasim had the best chance to clinch the presidency the mood of the people has changed dramatically. The about turn is  the outcome of growing engagement in politics by people of all walks of life. 

So here's my new "chart".

1)Hassan Saeed
Saeed has been amassing huge support for months and this is manifesting itself in every poll. Given that he lacks direct access to the media like Gayoom and Anni, his campaign can be said to be doing extremely well. Saeed's speeches and rebuttals are direct, economic, and stinging (as Gayoom found out at the Q&A). Saeed is standing up well to criticism by his envious opponents, mostly Gayoom and Anni, and daily gaining more voters.

Anni has bounced back somewhat, the result of door to door campaigning by hardcore MDP supporters. But his partnership with DRP, to powershare the elections commission, and endorsement of the religious right may have lost him some voters. At the Q&A, Anni refrained from criticising Gayoom as a result of which the limelight was stolen by Ibra and Hassan Saeed. Both DRP and Adhalath have now dumped him, and it remains to be seen if Anni can be exciting again. 

Nobody likes a dictator, but Gayoom will still get some votes because he gives orders to Atoll Chiefs, his stooges people the supreme court and the elections commission, and he owns the government media and the armed forces. I wouldn't be surprised if a contingency plan is already in place, should he lose the elections, for a military takeover of some kind involving Adam Zahir. Gayoom cannot accept defeat.

Ibra may be a good orator and he clearly has the cleanest slate of the lot, but he just doesn't have the resources to step up his campaign. However, he can still expect a respectable share of the votes.

Gasim had everything, money, manpower, and beneficiaries who would have supported him. Money can't buy everything, however, and his highly paid advisors and campaign managers have clearly failed him. Candidates with less resources are running better campaigns.

6)Umar Naseer
Totally out of touch with the mood of the people. The fight for democracy that this country has experienced in the last few years was the outcome of a reaction against police brutality on unarmed prisoners. But Umar Naseer is calling to empower the armed forces even more and, indeed, is alleged to have abused people in detention when he was in the NSS. His ill-informed reactionary rants are not helping either.