The Sunny Side to Politics

India & Maldives

A traditional monarchy, the Maldives had its first written constitution only in the early part of the 1930s, when the then Sultan’s hand was forced by a court rebellion

The tourist destination of the Maldives with its famed beaches filled with sun, sand and surf has a colourful and interesting polity. A nation that embraced electoral democracy only after the turn of the 20th century, has witnessed an inclusive political process with all its ups and downs. In fact, the political history of this nation would defiantly rival its South Asian neighbours.

Political Journey

The politics of the Maldives began, by and large, from 1965, when the nation freed itself from being a British protectorate. A traditional monarchy, the Maldives had its first written constitution only in the early part of the 1930s, when the then Sultan’s hand was forced by a court rebellion. This rebellion, though, only limited the powers of the Sultan and not that of the Sultanate as a system of governance. However, the Sultanate was itself challenged in 1953, when Amin Didi declared himself as president of the New Republic. Didi’s political career was short lived with the return of the Sultan by another coup.

Nonetheless, the experience of Didi did not secure the reign of the state to the newly reinstated Sultanate. In 1957, Ibrahim Nasir disposed of the Sultan and the Sultanate for good, and became the president of the Second Republic. Nasir ruled with an iron hand until he was eased out of office by Maumoon Gayoom. Gayoom, like his predecessor, ruled with an iron hand for three whole decades that witnessed few serious developments.

Failed Coup Attempt

It was during Gayoom’s presidency that the nation faced a failed coup attempt by Sri Lankan Tamil militants in 1988. In a rescue effort by the Indian security establishment, code named Operation Cactus, the perpetrators and the alleged conspirators of this attempted coup, were not only deterred, but were also brought to book.

This failed coup attempt differed from past political developments on two counts. The first was that Op Cactus was not an internal affair of the nation, for much of the planning, logistics, men and materials as well as the conspiracy itself was hatched outside the nation. While on the other hand, the developments prior to 1988 were at best akin to a palace coup, which was far from the bloody military variant that had visited this nation. India’s timely intervention saved the day for Maldivians and President Gayoom. With normalcy returning, the government of the day undertook a series of course corrections and reforms that were largely limited within the domain of state security.

Political Reform

However, serious political changes began only after the turn of the new millennium, and led to some extent by political mobilisation of the masses. As a result, the first significant political reforms that were introduced included a new constitution, which echoed a democratic and pluralistic character.

Owing to this new constitution of 2008, the Maldives had its first democratic elections in its history. In many ways, the election to the office of the president in 2008 was a landmark development, for it not only introduced multi-party politics to the nation, but also a vibrant political culture that seems to be the future of this island nation.

However, the elections also shed some light on the political landscape of the Maldives. Even though Gayoom, the incumbent president of three decades lost and accepted electoral defeat, his successor Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed’s electoral victory was anything but emphatic. Nasheed secured only a quarter of the popular mandate in the first round as against Gayoom’s 40 percent. It was only in the second round of polling that Nasheed, with support extended by other candidates, managed to cross the half way mark, while Gayoom on his own notched up a few percentage points and lost the elections by securing only 44 percent.

This election was a litmus test for the new constitution. However, the smooth transfer of power proved the veracity of the political reforms initiated under the aegis of the incumbent. This in no way meant that the future political discourse of this Indian Ocean archipelago was limited to the strength that the government derived from the ballot.

Owning to a number of issues, including competitive politics of a multiparty variant, Nasheed resigned from office within three year of assuming change. Initial reports suggested a coup in the making, but were proved otherwise. The development brought out the complexities of Maldivian politics and the nature of competitive electoral politics of the South Asian variant.

Nasheed’s resignation did stir some political protest, but did not create an administrative or constitutional deadlock for Waheed Hassan Manik, vice-president under Anni, who was duly elevated to the office of the president in accordance with the 2008 constitution. Manik, on his part, served out the remaining tenure of Anni’s presidency as the nation’s first citizen. Presidential elections were called for in 2013, as prescribed by law.

Evolving Political Landscape

The second democratic exercise of 2013, like the one before, brought with it its own set of political equations, arithmetic and complex polity. This time around, Nasheed was portrayed as the electoral issue like Gayoom in the past. The electoral figures of 2013 shared a great similarity with those of 2008. Nasheed secured 45 percent of the votes polled in the first round as against his nearest rival Abdulla Yameen’s 20 percent. In the runoff, Nasheed, despite improving his tally to 48 percent, lost the election to Yameen, who crossed the half way mark in an electoral alliance. With a slim, but a clear, popular mandate, Yameen became the president in the nation’s second electoral process.

Between these two elections, the political landscape of the nation has evolved and is evolving. From a nation whose history was largely dictated by a single man, and whose political culture revolved around that man, the Maldives has now not only adopted, but also accepted the electoral process with all its strengths and weakness.

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Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.