The Maldives has finally elected a President, but the acrimony that preceded the November 16 verdict leaves Abdullah Yaameen Abdul Gayoom without the luxury of the usual honeymoon period.
The Maldives has finally elected a President, but the acrimony that preceded the November 16 verdict leaves Abdullah Yaameen Abdul Gayoom without the luxury of the usual honeymoon period. That he won with barely more than the mandated 50 per cent plus one vote is proof enough that nearly half the country trusts someone else: Mohammed Nasheed, who stepped down as President in February 2012 in highly controversial circumstances after winning the tiny island nation’s first multiparty election in 2008. The new President is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country with an iron hand for about three decades. Mr. Yaameen has to first assure his deeply divided country that he will not go down the path that Mr. Gayoom strode for decades — locking up detractors and quelling dissent with a heavy hand. Speaking for his party, the Progressive Party of Maldives, Mr. Gayoom has set the right tone of engagement, saying that neither Mr. Nasheed nor his party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, will be harmed. This will address only a part of the challenges before the new President.
In the year and a half since Mr. Nasheed was forced out of office, the country had come to a virtual standstill. The electoral process had stuttered along, interrupted repeatedly by the Supreme Court, the very institution tasked with upholding the rule of law. From September 7, when the first round of polls was held, only to be annulled by the Supreme Court, to the final round on November 16, the Maldives had witnessed a clash of the institutions that form the backbone of any democracy. The police had, on one occasion, prevented election officials from moving out of their premises, and, on another, the Supreme Court had, contravening the Constitution, extended the term of President Mohamed Waheed. Mr. Waheed, an international diplomat, who was Mr. Nasheed’s Vice President, had been elevated in February 2012 under a constitutional provision, a day after Mr. Nasheed resigned. India, the Maldives’ closest friend and neighbour, adopted a mature approach, which could form the template for its engagement with other neighbours too. Though there were calls — often from more than one player in the Maldives — for Indian intervention to ‘set right’ democracy, New Delhi showed restraint to guard against any charge of dabbling in the internal affairs of the nation. Mr. Yaameen’s first priority will be to fix the economic mess the country is in. Despite the antipathy towards India among a large section of his party — his Vice-President, Mohamed Jameel, is a known India-baiter — it will serve Mr. Yaameen well to have a good working relationship with India. The two nations have much to gain from fostering closer, friendly ties.