|Name of Event:
Sapru House Lecture
"Challenges to Democracy in Maldives"
H.E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid
Speaker, People’s Majlis (Parliament) of
|| 7 May
House, New Delhi
Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) organised the
Fourth Sapru House Lecture by H. E. Mr. Abdulla Shahid,
Speaker, People’s Majlis (Parliament) of Maldives,
entitled “Challenges to Democracy in Maldives”
on May 7, 2013. Ambassador Arun Kumar Banerjee, former
High Commissioner to the Republic of the Maldives, chaired
the event. A large audience attended the lecture including
the diplomatic corps, academic community, media and
Rajiv K Bhatia, Director General, ICWA, introduced the
Speaker and formally welcomed the guest. In his opening
remarks, Ambassador Bhatia highlighted that Maldives
was a very important country in South Asia and ICWA
attached great importance to research and relations
Arun Kumar Banerjee mentioned that in the last decade,
the world had witnessed the peaceful and successful
transition of the Maldives into a democratic republic.
He noted that this transition had introduced many changes
and challenges to the people of the Maldives. Meeting
those challenges and establishing democracy in the Maldives,
would only be achieved with patience and commitment.
Citing Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement that ‘people
are not born democratic; people become democratic’;
he said that one has to learn to be democratic.
his vision of bilateral cooperation between India and
the Maldives, Mr. Shahid held that India had always
stood by Maldives and its people and uncompromisingly
extended its generosity as a good neighbour. He said
that though the differences in size and power between
the two countries were glaring, and were, sometimes,
prone to bestow inequality; India had always looked
upon the Maldives as an equal partner. As an expert
for more than two decades, Mr. Shahid testified that
while there were innumerable examples of brotherly relationship
between India and the Maldives, the Maldives had never
been made to feel like a younger brother.
Shahid recalled India’s generosity towards the
Maldives on many occasions including on the occasion
of the armed attack on the Maldivian sovereignty on
November 3, 1988 and the tsunami disaster in 2004. He
said such unreserved cooperation and good faith had
been built over many decades of friendship between the
two countries. Today, the Maldives faced a political
tsunami, as it struggled with the chaos, caused by a
sudden change of the government in February 2012. He
mentioned that political discourse in the country had
become polarised, fuelled by mutual mistrust and a lack
of good faith among political leaders.
Shahid emphasised that Maldives was expected to hold
the second presidential election in September 2013 under
the provisions of the 2008 Constitution. It required
constructive engagement and cooperative assistance of
the international community. He recalled that when the
Maldives embraced multi-party democracy and conducted
its free and fair elections in 2008, the international
community joined it in rejoicing the peaceful transition
of power through the ballot. However, the success that
the Maldives celebrated in 2008 was not real. It faced
problems of severe resource limitation, both in monetary
and human terms, as well as inexperience in the art
of ‘deliberative’ governance. He argued
that the people of the Maldives had been ruled by authoritarian
Sultans for more than 800 years; therefore, the transfer
of power from Sultan to elected president in 1968, with
the adoption of Republican form of government, did not
diminish the power of the executive.
the newly created autonomous state bodies in the Maldives
after the events of 2008, he said that these bodies
were over eager to establish their distinct identities,
interpreting their mandate in an expansive manner that
often brought them into conflict with other state institutions.
Further, he said that it was evident that the mere presence
of political parties, a hastily drawn up Constitution,
establishing separation of power, conferring freedom
of expression, setting up independent state institutions
and even holding internationally verifiable free and
fair elections did not provide for sustainable democracy.
However, it would be premature to claim that democracy
had failed in Maldives.
In his concluding remarks, he mentioned that the upcoming election pose a crucial challenge for the future of democracy in the Maldives. It may help to consolidate the tentative steps that the Maldives had taken towards a sustainable and viable democratic future otherwise it could end up tearing the country further apart. Therefore, he urged the international community to become more actively engaged with the Maldives for the forthcoming elections. Further, he said that as Maldives attempts to restore its democratic credentials, a vote of confidence by the international community, in the newly elected leader, would be an important factor.
During the discussion, several questions were raised relating to different issues ranging from health and education in Maldives, Islamic orientation, presidential election, institutional infrastructure and political situation in Maldives and lack of national consensus on basic issues. The discussion was interactive and informative.
Dr. Smita Tiwari, Research Fellow, Indian Council
of World Affairs