Nasheed's short tenure, when compared to the long innings of his predecessor, will be remembered for not only heralding a democratic era but also avoidable constitutional and political deadlocks.
Rather than allowing events to drift towards a political or even military showdown, Maldivian President Mohammed “Anni” Nasheed has shown great fidelity to democratic principles in a country where none existed before him by stepping down from office with grace and poise. The alternative to his sudden and yet unsurprising resignation — when pushed by circumstances, often of his making or that of his aides and followers — could have been political instability at best, and possible street violence at worst.
Under the U.S. executive presidency model, Nasheed has been succeeded by Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, Maldives' first PhD-holder and an international civil servant in U.N. agencies across the world. Again, as in the U.S. model, Dr. Manik, who was the running-mate of President Nasheed, will complete the five-year term for which he was elected, ensuring that there would be no instability of any kind at the top. That democracy has taken deep-roots in the Indian Ocean archipelago was proved even in the hours immediately following President Nasheed's resignation, when the People's Majlis, or Parliament, met to pass the necessary resolutions to declare the succession.
The speculation about the new President ordering fresh elections is thus ill-informed. If anything, there could be fresh elections to the Majlis. This is also unlikely. Under the prevailing circumstances, no party or group is certain of winning an absolute majority, and therefore, will not push for elections. Instead, as President, Dr. Waheed may consider the feasibility of constituting a national government, where all parties, including President Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the two rival parties founded successively by his predecessor, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, have a substantial and meaningful role and responsibility in nation-building, a task that has suffered over the past couple of years for a variety of reasons.
There are other parties and groups that are now in the Opposition but had sided with the MDP, particularly during the second round run-off elections to the presidency in which Nasheed was elected in October 2008. Included in the list are Islamic fundamentalist groups, who were a part of the informal arrangement of the “December 23 Coalition,” named after the day on which they all together staged a protest to “protect Islam” in 2011. At the end of the day, President Nasheed's short tenure, particularly compared to the long innings of his predecessor, will be remembered for the institutionalisation of democracy in the country. However, it will also be simultaneously remembered for the avoidable, and at times acrimonious, constitutional and political deadlocks. The Nasheed camp blamed the various crises that came in its way on the well-entrenched administrative set-up that the young President had inherited. The new government did not learn, or learn fast enough, to live and work with the old guard. Instead, from day one and until the end, the Nasheed government worked against the system. Unfortunately, that did not yield much in terms of positive results or a positive image for the young inheritors of troubled times.
As President, Nasheed began well. With much help and cooperation from his predecessor, he could ensure a smooth transition when much trouble was feared. Likewise, at his exit, he stepped down without unease and discomfort, rather than indulge in brinkmanship that could have put the young democracy in difficulties. A street-fighter to the core, it remains to be seen how he will shape up in the Opposition — before this, when he and his yet-to-be recognised party were fighting for democracy under President Gayoom, he had no formal role in the political system. Declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, Nasheed spent much of his political career either in Gayoom's prisons, or overseas — he was much influenced by the British Conservatives and by the U.S.' views on global issues. Yet, he also displayed an element of sagacity, in accepting India as a natural ally, as in the past.
Today, along with President Gayoom, with whom he did not share much in common, President Nasheed has a substantial role to play in nation-building efforts, both learning as much from their faults as from the other person's strengths while in office. This can be both a cementing and calming effect on the polity and society, which has felt elated at the birth of democracy and a change of leadership, from the old to the young — and yet could not adjust itself to the changing realities, particularly on the economic front, overnight. Included in the long list of complaints against the Nasheed leadership is the steep increase in the price of daily needs, all of which have to be necessarily imported, the problem further accentuated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF)-induced decision at a “managed float of the rufiyaa,” the Maldivian currency — a devaluation in other words.
Likewise, the IMF-directed slash on salaries and staff-strength in the government also had critics in a country where 10 per cent of the population is employed in the government. Yet, the March 2011 local council elections did go the MDP way mostly, but then that alone has not been enough in this case. From Parliament to the judiciary, and now at the level of the police, the leadership lacked the capacity to handling crisis situations that eventually became its undoing.
The new President and his two predecessors can play a concurrent and contributory role to make a Maldives of their collective dreams — Dr. Waheed, heading the relatively minor Gaumee Iththihaad Party does not have any parliamentary representation, and must depend on Gayoom and Nasheed, as well as the Dhivehi Rayathunge Party (DRP), the parent party of Gayoom's more recent Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), among others, to get government business through the legislature. Dr. Waheed can be expected to take the lead in this matter.
(The writer is Director, Chennai Chapter and Senior Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)