The idea of a Maldivian united opposition may sound a contradiction in terms but the mere fact that people have been talking about it and the meeting that took place in London on 1 June is a brave and novel move.
I was invited to attend that meeting as an independent guest, and it was good to see that people had eventually come to their senses, seeing that no politician, even those close to President Yameen, are safe with him.
Politicians who ignored Yameen’s attack on constitutional safeguards and helped him consolidate his grip on power have now realized that by doing so they had simply secured a place for themselves in the Dhoonidhoo and other detention centers. It is now inevitable that they should be seeking to reverse that outcome.
While opposition politicians appear more seasoned now by showing a degree of maturity in coming together, there is no evidence to suggest that Yameen will change his apparent determination to crush the opposition.
However, the stronger the opposition will be the more difficult will be for Yameen to ignore democratic and human rights safeguards. That is not just what opposition politicians wish; civil society activists wish it to happen too, as would the majority of the people who did not vote for Yameen in the first round of presidential elections, which prompted the judiciary to step in and change the rules in Yameen’s favour.
In the Maldives, as in other South Asian countries, people vie to win elections at any cost, and once President or Prime Minister, they start to use state institutions such as the police and the judiciary to suppress their political opponents. In recent decades, this has been true of most South Asian leaders. Nasheed could not and did not use the tools to consolidate his power. Yameen is determined to do just that.
Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has introduced a completely new rule to the game. No sooner than he secured his presidency – with support of course from a compliant judiciary and all but one of the other contestants – he turned against the very people who brought him to power.
First, he went for the parties who had allied with him and jailed their leaders or threatened them that they would be jailed; and then, he went for the judiciary, removed the less compliant judges and divided the benches.
Everyone thinks it was Nasheed’s initiative to nite the opposition, but it is actually Yameen who has done all necessary work for that. And judging by how Yameen continues to ignore the popular demand for human rights and democracy, he will continue with the work of uniting the opposition.
Like other South Asian autocratic rulers, including his half-brother Gayoom before him, President Yameen is labouring under the illusion that everything will remain the same, forever. Sadly, such politicians have no sense of history.
At the Maldives ‘United opposition’ meeting in London, the question that came to my mind was whether this alliance was going to last. Did those sitting on the panel know the enormity of the responsibility they were committing themselves to?
It is early days and one cannot judge how this opposition alliance will fare in the long run. But I think they all know that the only person who will joyfully benefit from a crack in this opposition will be President Yameen. There is therefore a good chance that the alliance may survive. If it does, it will usher a new era of political maturity in the Maldives, and set an example for the South Asian politicians to put democracy before their narrow personal interests.
(Abbas Faiz is Human rights expert and South Asia specialist with 31 years experience working as South Asia Specialist for Amnesty International, focussing on Bangladesh and the Maldives. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FocusMaldives.)