Maldives Democracy Comes Full Circle?

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen's party has won majority in the parliament in recent elections. But his party's victory has revived fears of return of authoritarian rule, like the one people saw during the three-decade long reign of his half brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Posted on 03/25/14
By Jay Rover | Via ViewsWeek
President Yameen talking to reporters in Maldives capital Male following his party's victory in the parliamentary elections.(Photo by Fayaz Moosa via
President Yameen talking to reporters in Maldives capital Male following his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections.(Photo by Fayaz Moosa via 

The coalition of ruling party Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has won majority in the parliamentary elections in the Maldives. The tiny Indian Ocean nation went to polls on March 22.


The Maldivian Democratic Party, whose nominee, Mohamed Nasheed, was elected President in the first multi-party elections in 2008, won only 24 seats of the People’s Majlis, the Maldives’ Parliament. Islamists Aadalath Party one just one seat in the Majlis.


The elections went ahead as scheduled despite fears about the ability of the elections commission to stage the ballot successfully after the chief and deputy were fired two weeks ago by the country’s Supreme Court. In all, 302 candidates contested the 85 parliamentary seats. The directly elected president has wide powers in the country of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.


Many Maldives observers are calling the success of Progressive Party of Maldives as possible return of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s authoritarian era, who ruled Maldives for three decades till 2008. Gayoom is the founder of PPM while his half brother Abdulla Yameen Gayoom is the country’s sitting president.


Polling was largely trouble-free and independent watchdog Transparency Maldives, which monitored the voting, said it was “conducted well”. Officials said about two-thirds of the 240,000-strong electorate turned out to vote.


The victory of President Yameen’s PPM in the parliament has given control of legislature and executive to one party in the country. The new power equation has revived fears of a new era of authoritarian rule of the majority. “… with Gayoom-era judges heading the Supreme Court, democracy in the Maldives has come full circle. For Mr. Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, who won the presidency in the 2013 elections, the victory means freedom to put his agenda into action,” wrote The Hindu, one of India’s respected daily, wrote in an editorial.


Maldives has seen political turmoil since February 2012 when Nasheed was forced to resign following weeks of protests by the opposition which had then been joined by majority of military and police forces. Political instability has hit the country’s economy hard. According to the Asian Development Bank, its yawning fiscal deficit has been averaging 14% of GDP over the past five years.

Tourism is the mainstay of Maldives economy. (Photo by Nuno Mouta, Creative Commons License)
Tourism is the mainstay of Maldives economy. (Photo by Nuno Mouta, Creative Commons License)


Maldives Monetary Authority estimate that tourism contribute the most to its economy. The sector was indirectly responsible for 70% of the economy and 90% of foreign exchange receipts. Last year 1.2 million tourists visited the country.


President Yameen has promised to turn the country around in the coming months. But governance remains a tall order for Maldives. “Mr. Yameen presides over a mammoth government: the number of Ministers in the Maldives is only marginally less than in Sri Lanka — which has the largest number of ministers in this region. Public confidence in institutions and government is at an all-time low,” wrote The Hindu in its editorial.


Saudi influence

Maldives has traditionally strong economic relations with India and other countries in the region. But in recent years, Saudi Arabia has emerged as a major player in the country’s economy.


Saudi Arabia has promised the Maldives a five-year soft loan facility of 300 million dollars. A Saudi property company, Best Choice, plans to spend 100 million dollars on building a world class family holiday resort. Maldives is also seeking Saudi partnerships in energy and transport but, according to BBC correspondent Charles Haviland, the biggest cooperation sector is “Islamic affairs.”


Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who had booked out three whole Maldivian islands for nearly a month early this year, has pledged to build ten “world-class” mosques in the archipelago, seven of them this year, while visiting Saudi scholars recently pledged a grant of $100,000 for Islamic education.


But Maldives has to tread a delicate balance in its relations with China and India as well. In fact the country’s largest tourist traffic comes from China, which also enjoys great influence in Sri Lanka, Maldives closest neighbor in the Indian Ocean. President Yameen may have a unique opportunity to make good on his election promises if he maintains the country’s democratic credentials, political stability and brings transparency in governance. But his biggest challenge could be allaying fears that he may follow the example of authoritarian governance of his half brother in the coming months and years.


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