In forcing the cancellation of the presidential polls a second time, the Maldives government has proved to be at best an inept bystander and at worst a willing collaborator. The Waheed administration has not only prevented the Maldivian people from exercising their franchise, but also stands in direct contempt of the original Supreme Court order that required elections to be held before October 20. Strangely, even the Court did not deem it fit to take cognisance of the blatant flouting of its order by the executive, the very arm tasked with administering the polls. It is impossible to miss the pattern: there were no major complaints of voter list tampering till the results came out on the night of September 7; the first complainant who approached the Court was a trailing candidate Qasim Ibrahim, who is a member of the powerful Judicial Services Commission. Based on questionable evidence, the Supreme Court annulled the polls and ordered fresh elections. It also set clear guidelines, one of which related to approval of electoral rolls by the candidates. This effectively gave candidates the right to veto the polls. President Mohamed Waheed — sworn in under controversial circumstances after Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 — cannot abdicate responsibility for the Maldivian Police Service forcibly blocking Election Commission personnel from moving out poll-related material on the morning of October 19, when the elections were scheduled. Surely, Dr. Waheed, a career diplomat who retired from the United Nations, should be aware of the dangerous consequences of one arm of the state acting unilaterally and unconstitutionally.
The Maldives, which elected its first President in a multi-party election in 2008, has been at a standstill ever since Mr. Nasheed resigned. The country appears too polarised to be able to complete the poll process ahead of November 11, the constitutionally mandated date for a new President to be sworn in. The completion of the poll process is especially important to India, which has longstanding ties with the Maldives. What’s more, New Delhi attributes great strategic importance to the archipelago of about 1200 islands that straddles the eastern shipping routes. In the words of India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, “what affects Maldives affects us.” President Waheed’s assertions that he will endeavour to hold polls within the stipulated date has cut no ice with anyone. With a leader who has lost credibility, and two candidates — Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen — who appear bent on subverting the democratic process, the Maldives needs the support and guidance of the international community.