Dhivehin – Always Maldivian, Forever Independent

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Official logo used in marking the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives. Source: Twitter

President Abdulla Yameen’s speeches since he assumed office in 2013 has always been about issuing thinly veiled threats targeted at the public. The dissenting voices of the public of course. The public that keeps fighting against the rising tide, the insurmountable odds being stacked against them with every day that has come and gone since then. The official function and banquet to celebrate the Golden Jubilee since the independence of Maldives from the British was held just tonight. President Yameen spoke at length, delivered a speech more or less of the same caliber and tone. This time around though, there was a slight difference. The public weren’t the only ones that were targeted.

The public indeed did get an earful on the differences of opinion that has divided society so much. According to the President, all the woes that exists in society today, the social problems that seem to grow worse by the day, all of this is due to the rising voices within us for freedom, democracy, good governance, accountability & transparency. In other words, the fight for freedom has left a huge gaping hole in our society that needs to be plugged – and fast. In a nutshell, the President seems to be talking about the multi-party system of governance that Maldives saw come to light with the Maldivian Democratic Party coming into being in 2005.

If there is one thing that the current regime knows how to do, and they do it very well, it is to operate under the guise of law and do whatever it is they need to do to stifle the movement of the people, to shut down the voices of the people; the people who see through the thin veil of legitimacy that their actions are shrouded in and are not happy about it. What I believe that the President was hinting at tonight was the ultimate move to abolish the political parties that operate in the country. The new anti-terrorism bill that has been submitted to the Parliament recently hints at the ultimate weapon that would be utilized in destroying the last vestiges of the democratic movement that exists within us.

New anti-terrorism laws while needed to curb and take action against the rising extremist elements within societies are being used by despotic governments across the globe to stifle the opposing political movements within their countries. Malaysia was one country that passed such a bill recently, all under the guise of taking action against those with extremist ideologies within their country.

A closer look at the bill drafted in the Maldives, as per an article on The Diplomat reveals that certain offenses listed in the newly submitted anti-terrorism bill contains offenses that can be attributed to political activists. Offenses such as murder, causing bodily harm, damaging property, causing suspension of public services, for instance, if carried out under the guise of (1) “unduly” influencing the government, (2) creating fear, or (3) promoting “unlawful” political and religious ideologies, can be charged under terrorism and thus pose a highly worrisome threat to our already ailing democracy, if one can even call it that now.

With the parliament having become an organization that just basically rubber stamps what the government requires of them, I have no hopes of anything in contrary happening. The government will push this bill through, most likely citing the statistics that they’ve been refusing to reveal up till now, the numbers of the droves of people from our country who have fled to Syria to fight in the “global jihad” that is being waged. Once the bill goes through & becomes law, which I believe would happen before this year is through, will signal the death & destruction of every political party & ideology that exists in Maldives. Either conform to the governing party’s mentality or be ignored or perhaps worse.

Moving back to tonight’s speech, while the people got off a tad “easily” this time around, since the last time I watched the President deliver a speech it nearly burnt my ears off, President Yameen’s criticism tonight was also targeted at the international community. That’s right. The meddling international community that wants to judge whether our installed government is actually constitutional. Whether our trials are being conducted fairly, whether due process is being followed and so on and so forth. The President’s hardline stance tonight suggests that leaving the Commonwealth is a foregone conclusion, the Parliament having debated on the issue on just the 20th of this month. The President with his speech is issuing a threat at the international community at large, that he’d play hardball with any and every organization, country or agency that is willing to make this country conform to the accepted norms of democratic governance in the world. Civil societies & organizations such as Transparency Maldives that work towards educating the masses on their rights, on making their governments accountable to them? Well lets bid sayonara to them.

That brings me to the newly drafted law on freedom of expression that is yet to darken the doorways of the Parliament, which is set to criminalize four types of “expressions contrary to national interest” as per a report published on Maldives Independent. According to the article, “free expression can be restricted on the grounds of national security only if the following circumstances arise: if there is a need to protect the nation or its territory, if Maldivians or foreigners threaten national security with the use of force, and if the government’s ability to defend the nation is endangered.” The President’s whole speech tonight was more or less targeted towards just the above. Protecting our nation, territory and national security. Rhetoric that governments like ours are famous for using to thwart all forms of dissent.

While the above said laws would definitely curtail our freedom & civil liberties, it would also move towards rendering the Article 4 of the Constitution utterly and irrevocably useless. That all the powers of the State of Maldives are derived from, and remain with, the citizens. The government is smart enough not to do too much at once. Rather, they plan & strategize carefully, this “war” being waged on our freedom & liberties that are guaranteed on the piece of paper that we call our Constitution. I say a piece of paper because it becomes just that, an easily perishable piece of paper if the governing forces that be aren’t willing to protect the basic principles and tenets of the document.

So, on this day where which we are supposed to be celebrating with glee the Golden Jubilee of Independence of Maldives, where the government has spent an excess of MVR 150 million (a figure equivalent to or greater than US$ 9 million), I really wonder at what we are celebrating. As per the 2006 census, 1/3rd of the country’s population lives in the crowded capital of the country Male’. The numbers much have shot up exponentially since then, exacerbated by the expatriate employee population that resides within as well. With zero opportunities available in own islands & atolls apart from working in the tourism sector, most are forced to leave their homes and live in crowded apartments and rooms costing their entire salaries for rent. Yet, we call ourselves independent, clapping with glee when millions of MVR of taxpayers money go up in flames at every single fireworks festival that has sort of become the norm since this government took over.

So whose independence are we really celebrating? Corruption runs rampant, organizations are held hostage by those with zero integrity and our police and military lie dormant, content with a couple of badges & promotions that alleviate their difficult standards of living, albeit be it even briefly. The judiciary has become a place where injustice is dolled out at will, and the parliament, well the parliament is the place that passes every bill that is sent by the government, without so much as a thought to the consequences on the freedom, sovereignty & rights of the generations to come.

I think we would be forced to bid farewell to the freedom that we’ve enjoyed for a brief period of time. It was good while it lasted, though it might not have been perfect. Shortly will emerge the campaign by the government to make us submit or be of those that perish in the government’s greed and ambition to squeeze every bit of revenue they can from this land of ours until there’s nothing left. Let us never forget. Hitler did what he did under the guise of laws passed in his country. So will we learn the bitterness of it all, in the years to come.

Dhivehin, always Maldivian. Forever independent. Or so it goes.

Vote for “Your Vote”!

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Come Saturday, the whole of Maldives will be going to the ballot box to decide who the President of this country would be for the next 5 years; a change from the “norm” that was accepted when the police and military with the help of religious extremists and a handful of hate mongers ousted the elected President Mr. Mohamed Nasheed from power on February 7, 2012. A lot has happened since then, and the Maldives has come a long way since Nasheed stepped down from power to prevent the country from swimming in the blood of its own people, a step he took for his country, a step he says that he is grateful to have taken in the light of the events of today.

There was a time when Nasheed was chased away from stepping onto islands to say his piece, to ask people to consider voting for him. Times have certainly changed and he has a fan base that rivals that of any pop star or musician of this day and age. And those who hate him, well they continue to do so with a vengeance, even with all the facts to be seen right in front of their eyes, hanging onto their reasons that lets them cling onto their hatred for him just a little longer.

Why vote for Mohamed Nasheed, Candidate Number 4 you ask?

Candidate 4, Mohamed Nasheed

Candidate 4, Mohamed Nasheed

Well, I ask you, isn’t February 7, 2012 reason enough? Yes, everyone voted for a change, some with humongous expectations in the need to move away from the autocratic and dictatorial leadership of President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom who ruled this country with an iron fist for 30 long years and stuffed his coffers with wads of cash stored in offshore bank accounts never to be seen ever again.

As history has shown time and yet again, Maldives is a nation that is prone to coup d’état. From the time when kingdoms ruled this country to its first Republic, the leaders in power have been toppled through nefarious planning on those hellbent on achieving the highest position of authority in this country through any means possible. President Ibrahim Nasir barely escaped this as he sought to leave the country after handing over the reins to the overly capable soft hands of Maumoon, who then was in the role of rabble-rousing. Fast-forward to 33 years down the line and we see Maumoon working behind the scenes once again to ensure that the defeat he faced in the 2nd round of Presidential Elections in 2008 would indeed come and bite the country’s arse in the form of a coup to oust the elected President.

The Constitution of Maldives is very clear on the aspects of who would rule the country and how a person would be chosen from the masses to be represent us. It is also very clear on the rights that is given to the President, more so because we opted for a Presidential system of governance in 2007. After the historical 2008 elections that changed the whole face of this country, through the missteps that Nasheed and his leadership took, Maumoon and his cronies gained a stronghold in the Parliamentarian elections in 2009 which kick-started the chain of events that led to Nasheed’s demise from power.

My point here being everyone who took part in the protests that called for his resignation hold onto the fact that Nasheed acted in defiance of the Constitution by imprisoning Judge Abdulla of the Criminal Court who had pending ongoing investigations at the Judicial Service Commission which is again under the stronghold of the Kaaminee clan (Maumoon’s family). The coup was the icing on the cake on the activities that were pre-planned and executed in style to rip us off of our votes and discard our say in who is to lead us, as if we were mere nothings, which is exactly how Maumoon and his family thinks of Maldivians. Puppets to do their bidding, with no abilities to think on our own in making sound decisions to choose a leader for the country, unless of course the leader happens to be someone approved by the man for all islands aka Maumoon.

Candidate 1, Gasim Ibrahim

Candidate 1, Gasim Ibrahim

For me, the coup alone is reason enough to vote for Nasheed. The rest of the 3 candidates namely Mr. Gasim Ibrahim from Jumhooree Party, Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the incumbent President running as an independent candidate and Mr. Abdulla Yameen from People’s Progressive Party whose leader is none other than Maumoon himself; all of them have been important elements of the coup. While Gasim funded the whole shebang, Yameen worked through the nitty-gritties and planned the whole thing to a T while Dr. Waheed stepped up with that brilliant eye gouging smile of his and added, “Do I look like someone who would bring about a coup d’état?” Quite convincing the argument he presents don’t you think?

For those who are hellbent on protecting Islam and think Mohamed Nasheed to be the “devil” in disguise, take a step back and think to the era of Maumoonism where learning religion outside the sources of information approved by the state was considered illegal and earned people jail time in the prisons notorious for dishing out various forms of cruelty on its prisoners, just for the fun of it. Do you guys remember the time people’s beards were shaved off and applied a potent mix of chilli just because they dared grow their beard to follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohamed (PBUH)? Do you recall the time during the 90’s when wearing the veil was considered something for older women, when school children and I myself was harassed because we dared to cover ourselves up when we ventured outside? Do you remember the people who gave their sweat and blood to ensure that their children could follow the teachings of Islam the way you see fit to bring your children up in? Yet most importantly, do you remember a time during the 3 years of Nasheed’s presidency when you couldn’t do any of the above for the fear of repercussions from the State? Nasheed might have asked hard questions from all of us, not surprising in a society rampant in abuse of every kind. But then again, he has never gone against the will of the people in those matters and has always stepped back and taken the higher road where necessary. Look inside of yourself and seek answers, not from any of the hate mongering channels or newspapers, but just think through the incidents and decide for yourself; who is it that makes a real mockery of the religion.

Candidate 3, Abdulla Yameen

Candidate 3, Abdulla Yameen

Next, lets talk about the elephant in the room aka, the Maldivian Judiciary. It was Nasheed’s attempt to clean up the judiciary and install judges who are able and fit to serve the country that seemed to be the final straw for the coup perpetrators. Justice ensured means Yameen wouldn’t be able to operate his gangs and fatten up his coffers with the money from the large sales of drugs that runs amok through this country and has ruined this society enough to make one weep. A fair judiciary would mean Maumoon and his cronies too would find themselves in front of the system, answerable to their actions, no matter how revered a man he might be amongst his supporters. And for those who hate Nasheed, it’d also mean that he too would have to stand in front of that system to answer for his actions. A fair judicial system would also ensure that men like Gasim, who are rich beyond any Maldivian’s imagination would not be able to escape without paying his due to the State in taxes and otherwise, that would enrich the people of this country and develop the far outreaching islands and enable people to move back to their home islands instead of living in cramped quarters in the capital of Male’. Most of all, it would pave the way for implementation of Islamic Shariah, enable Maldives to implement the death penalty, which seems to be the highlight of everyone’s agenda since MP Afrasheem’s murder, as it would mean that the Judiciary is one that is rid of corrupt individuals and most of all would make sure that JUSTICE is done, no matter who is on the receiving end of it.

Now I ask you, isn’t that what Islam is all about? Having all of our rights secured, and being content in the knowledge that even if tomorrow we were to lose our rights regarding one thing or the other, that the Police, Prosecutor General and the Courts would do their damnedest to give us a fair hearing and make 100% certain that our rights are protected at all times? Look around the 4 candidates. Who from them has so far talked about cleaning up the Judiciary? Gasim refuses to even think that the likes of Ali Hameed who sits on the Supreme Court bench should be even investigated, let alone removed from position. Yameen barely mumbles along the issue as he controls a large number of judges in the Judiciary. But one thing mind you, you should take notice of when he talks is that he believes that the “Walliyul Amru” or the Head of State should be able to ascertain that justice is done and if not take swift actions regarding the matter to ensure that law and order remains in the country. His only problem? Nasheed being the Head of State who started on the venture. Next up is Dr. Waheed who is a negligible candidate at best, who doesn’t even want to think about the Judiciary and would rather turn his head to the other side on matters regarding the system. He is the man who said he would decide on the matter of Mr. Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, who as the President of the Civil Service Commission sexually harassed a female employee, upon which the Supreme Court with its residing porn star Mr. Ali Hameed decided that Fahmy should stay and perhaps the Civil Service Act also be rectified to insert that Mr. Fahmy should ALWAYS remain as the President of the Civil Service Commission as long as he lives. Point made?

Candidate 2, Mohamed Waheed

Candidate 2, Mohamed Waheed

Next, lets look at social welfare. Maumoon did start out on the health insurance scheme during 2008 which targeted only employees of the state. Nasheed came to power and ensured that each and every individual of the State received MVR 100,000.00 as their health insurance every year. Mind you, there were several problems with the system, mostly the health sector which even Nasheed’s presidency failed to tackle. What should be understood is that the health has been an ailing sector for far too long, and to put it upright just like that and will take a lot of time, determination and the effort of not just the President, but the employees who work in the sector themselves. Calling the system “Aa Sandhoah” meaning “New Casket” instead of “Aasandha” was the then opposition’s way of trying to belittle the system in front of its supporters, but truth of the matter is, be it which color you chose to vote for in 2008, the State did ensure that you received that amount of money as health insurance. And that it was the start of something that could have only gotten better with more stringent policies put in place with time.

So what about the allowances that were initiated for single mothers? An influx of single mothers did not just come into existence on November 11, 2008. They have been around for so long, most of them not receiving even the state ordered minute sum of money that the father is required to pay to the mother of his child for their upbringing. Nasheed ensured that this system be put in place and that a little hope be given to those mothers who had lesser hope than futile under the circumstances. If you are a mother, just think, if you were to turn into a single mother tomorrow, the State ensures that at least you wouldn’t have to run around the streets begging for food, which might just have been the case if otherwise.

What about the sum of money received by those older than 65? Lets be honest and say here that like any other society, the Maldivian society too is remiss in its responsibilities towards the old and the disabled amongst us. We have no special programs in place for either of these categories of people, and yet we spout the importance of all of this and beat our chests with pride because we are Muslims and that should count for something right? Either way, during that long run of 30 years, no one even dared think about giving a sum of money to the old so that they may also have a sense of pride in being to have something to spend, something that is given to them without begrudging on their children’s parts. While Waheed has promised to prepare the uninhabited islands for the old, Yameen has determined that he would rehabilitate the old, perhaps thinking that they might be fit and able to work to earn their own keep by the time they get out and not depend on state welfare? Gasim mumbled something along the lines of preaching Islam upon being asked the question and that was the end of his policy on the old. And all I am asking is for you to THINK.

Last and not the least, what about this wonderful right of being able to talk freely, of being express our opinions without the condemnation of the law and the state coming down upon us? No one can point at Nasheed and say that during his Presidency, so and so were abused and undeservingly put into prisons to serve extended upon extended sentences never to be heard from again. I believe imprisoning Judge Abdulla was long overdue. Nasheed could have carried it out better, but a Judge who asks a sexually molested child to recount the events in front of the perpetrator is just sick and wrong on so many levels. Not to mention the tales of the countless cases of suspected corruption upon him, the role he has played in releasing criminals to “teach” the state a “lesson”, all hinting at the lack of professionalism on his part. The precedent of freedom of speech just like that of a Presidential candidate going from door to door to meet his voters has been set. It would be hard to shake that off for the next generation of candidates to follow. And that was done by none other than President Nasheed himself.

In my opinion, Nasheed does all of it because he WANTS to do it. Not because he NEEDS to do it. And in that people, lies the difference that sets him apart from the rest of the candidates which I believe that truly earns him his vote next Saturday.

Lets all join our hands to rise against the coup regime, the people who thought our votes didn’t matter when they toppled the elected government. Why then I ask, should we vote for a group of people with such a lack of regard to our say? Who even tomorrow can come out with armed forces and topple the elected President from power if they want to? Pointless venture is it not?

Vote for Candidate number 4, Vote for Your Vote!