Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed is at the centre of an ongoing furor over the circumstances of his departure from power and the role of religious fundamentalists. He reiterated his concerns in an interview with Khabar South Asia.
Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, left office on February 7th under disputed circumstances, which he describes as a coup. Since then, he has called for fresh elections and is urging international sanctions against the government, which currently holds power. His goal, he says is to "rouse democracies everywhere on the need to bring back democracy to little Maldives and save the country from getting into the clutches of Islamic fundamentalists."
While on a visit to India, he spoke to Khabar South Asia correspondent Udayan Namboodiri about the situation in his country.
Khabar South Asia: Mr Nasheed, after you resigned, you have been pressing for early elections. The next presidential election is due in 2013 and the present regime has just announced that they will be held in July . So why are you wanting to bring forward the date?
Nasheed: There is every reason to fear that the coercive regime which deposed me will destroy the economy of Maldives and push the people into the embrace of Islamic fundamentalists. You must understand that more than 65% of the population of Maldives is under 35 years of age and they support me because of my honest attempts to make the country truly democratic after 35 years of authoritarian rule by Abdul Gayoom.
I, along with most educated and progressive Maldivians, believe that the repressive regime, which has already committed many human rights abuses, will push more and more people into the arms of the fundamentalists who are underground. They are converting every government programme into an exclusive one for the police and military. This way they are making it a martial law state under which no free elections will be possible.
Khabar: Just a small clarification: if the fundamentalists are now having a friendly government as reported, why should they be underground?
Nasheed: There are various shades of Islamic fundamentalism. Some are above ground and enjoying power, while some others are operating underground. The world community must understand that 80% of the world’s trade passes over the Indian Ocean and within the gaze of Maldives. The rise of the fundamentalists would threaten peaceful and smooth trade.
As you know, fundamentalism does not thrive in isolation. There are international connections, which could get stronger if this regime is allowed to continue. There are some in the government right now. This should raise the concerns of democratic governments everywhere.
Khabar: Suppose the present regime -- which, incidentally, is recognised both by India and the United States -- agrees to early elections. What would be a date to your liking?
Nasheed: All Maldivians want elections in this calendar year itself. Not later than December 31st, 2012. There is no need to have a Constitutional Amendment to declare early elections as some media have wrongly interpreted. Our Constitution has specifically empowered the Speaker of the Majlis to dissolve Parliament and order polling at any time.
My party, the Maldivian Democratic Party, won 32 of the 77 seats in the last elections and had the support of 12 independents. We blocked the attempts by the religious right to enter the political mainstream. If we were dishonest, we could have secured more seats by entering into shady alliances.
Khabar: Suppose the regime wants a compromise, a face saving way out, given the international pressure on it, would you agree?
Nasheed: Yes. I recognise the need for some sort of compromise. But the problem is that the other side is not willing to talk. Maldivians deserve democracy. I am fully in favour of any negotiated settlement so that authoritarianism ends and democracy and prosperity returns.