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Current Affairs ( 13 Aug 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Democratising the Maldives

An editorial in The Hindu, New Delhi

Aug 13, 2008


President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s ratification of a new constitution for the Maldives marks the start of a new phase in the atoll nation’s history. The new constitution (accessible at provides the foundation for a real democracy — a multi-party system. As the euphoria over the new statute melts and political parties seek to consolidate hard-won electoral freedom, it is time for a reality check. Mr. Gayoom’s 30-year rule saw the Maldives, a scattering of fishing islets, metamorphose into South Asia’s richest nation. Riding on a phenomenal tourism-led transformation, the country boasts a per capita income of $3,200. Unfortunately, this economic rise was at high political and social cost. Political dissent has been put down with an iron hand and the growth miracle has failed to dent economic inequalities, which are higher than even India’s. A 2006 World Bank study attributed the country’s economic success to continued political stability, strong leadership, and commitment to liberalisation policies; but pointed out that the gains “have been more for the upper echelons of the population.”


Two issues have come to the fore today: repressed political groupings reaching out for power, and concerns over extreme economic inequalities. Much will depend on how the competing political players respond to these critical issues as a multi-party democratic system takes root. Although the new constitution vests executive powers in the President, it aims, in contrast to the 1998 statute, to balance these powers through an empowered Parliament (People’s Majlis) and by ensuring the independence of key functionaries of a democracy, especially the higher judiciary, the judicial service commission, and the elections commission. The judicial service commission will appoint all judges except the Chief Justice of the Maldives and the other Supreme Court judges; they, however, will be appointed by the President after consultation with the commission and confirmation by the People’s Majlis. The government has committed itself to holding a presidential election before October 10, 2008. President Gayoom, who has been used to one-horse races since 1978, has announced his candidature and will now have to contest against candidates from opposition political parties. Everyone interested in a democratic future for the Maldives will hope that an effective, reasonably united opposition will be able to challenge Mr. Gayoom — and that the next President will continue the process of democratisation.


Source: The Hindu, New Delhi