Background on the Threat to Democracy in the Republic of Maldives
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Published on Sep 20, 2012
In 2008 Asia's longest standing dictatorship came to an end after a popular nonviolent movement succeeded in bringing democracy to the island nation of the Maldives. For nearly 30 years a corrupt autocrat, President Mahmoon Gayoom, and his colleagues ruled the Indian Ocean archipelago like a personal fiefdom, reaping extravagant sums of money from the nation's lucrative tourism industry, while leaving a vast majority of the nation's 300,000 inhabitants in penury and political repression.
Nonviolent resistance had begun in 2001 when dissidents formed the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). This initiative, in the face of a strict ban against political parties, landed many of them in jail, but their courage inspired many Maldivians to join them in resistance. By 2005 the MDP and other new civil society groups were organizing demonstrations in open defiance of the regime, and Gayoom's decision to crack down on these protests only succeeded in prompting more Maldivians as well as the international community to join the chorus of those calling for free and fair elections.
Pressure from the British Commonwealth, the United Kingdom, the European Union and other governments, along with mounting internal resistance, constrained Gayoom to acquiesce to free and fair elections monitored by international and domestic observers. The MDP, having mobilized much of the population, won the election. One of the founding members of the MDP, Mohamed 'Anni' Nasheed, a former journalist, and an effective organizer of nonviolent action, became the nation's first democratically elected president on October 28, 2008.
Quickly taking up the cause of fighting climate change, which threatens to submerge the low-lying Maldives in a few decades, and with plans to undertake overdue social welfare and infrastructure projects that could help bring the population out of poverty, Nasheed also saw the need to weed corruption out of government and also from the judiciary and police. This may have been what triggered the events of February 7, 2012, when Nasheed was forced to resign his office in the face of threats of violence by the police -- opening the way for the return to government of those who had served under the old dictator. These events marked a significant setback for democrcy in the Maldives, but they have also re-awakened the popular mobilization that led to its first triumph four years ago.
Today Mohamed Nasheed has once again found himself at the helm of a popular struggle to restore genuine democracy, leading protests in the face of widespread arrests and intimidation by the coup regime. This renewed repression has drawn stinging criticism from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for the Rights of Man, Reporters without Borders and other international human rights organizations. The struggle continues to unfold, and it warrants attention and support not only from the human rights community but also from governments, citizens' groups and news media organizations around the world that believe in civil liberties, free media, and real democracy.
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