Some weeks ago President Waheed wrote to me – and several others, setting out his view of events since the 7th February, and in particular how he felt misunderstood and unfairly judged.
After a few texts between us he agreed to accept a response from me. Whilst I will not betray his confidence by publishing his letter to me – I felt it was important that my response should be turned into an open letter. Here it is:
Dear President Waheed,
Thank you for your letter setting out the position as you see it. Let me in turn set out my stall, before replying to the substance of what you say.
As you know, you and I have always had a cordial, even friendly relationship. I have always thought you a reputable and straightforward person and continue to believe in your personal integrity.
It is also the case that I am not Nasheed’s man. I have tremendous respect for him as a democrat, and a man of high principle and great vision, but I have disagreed with him very strongly on issues in the past, and believe he made many mistakes in his Presidency. That said, I suspect my assessment is fairly unreliable as I am sure he had pressures on him, as I am sure you have on you, which were invisible to the outside world.
I hope therefore what I say can be taken as offering you a helpful perspective from an outsider who came to like the Maldives and its people very much, and who made many friends there in the short time I was involved. The information I have about events in the Maldives, therefore, come not only from the ‘Nasheed camp’ but from a range of sources with quite different perspectives.
Now to the substance of this response.
I have no reason to question that part of your letter which sets out the extent to which you personally were, and continue, to be committed to the Maldives, and democracy – or to the extent to which you put yourself and family at risk to support Nasheed. However I fear that your personal views and beliefs are not the driving issues here. It is the perception, not the reality, which matters more.
The key issues, I believe, are:
- The CoNI was set up in the hope of setting the record surrounding your accession to power straight, and dismissing the smell of coup and corruption. Unfortunately it failed to do this. Two reasons come to mind: firstly the choice of Judge Selvam does not seem to have been designed to allay concerns about bias. The Burma/Singapore/Maldives/Oil/Heroin rumours and the Judge’s close connections to the ruling elite in Singapore make anything he does look suspect – especially when the former chairman of the STO is quoted in ‘The Week’ as allegedly saying he has friends in Singapore who would have told him if the police were investigating. Whatever the truth, and I cannot judge that, choosing Judge Selvam was guaranteed to create more dissent than agreement. Secondly, the rumours I have heard about the pressures that led to Saeed resigning from the CoNI will not make it easy to see the report as unbiased and complete – even if the substance of the content is correct and the rumours are false.
- The second issue is the perception that the courts and judiciary in the Maldives are corrupt and incompetent, and politically tied to their old masters. Judge Abdullah is, I fear, widely seen as a travesty of a chief justice, and if he represents the rest it is not surprising many have lost faith in the system.
Thus the the circumstances of the transfer of power as seen on numerous videos, coupled with the handling of the CoNI and the actions of the judiciary means that I fear there is no way you will ever remove the taint of corruption and coup from this government – however clean, honest and transparent you personally may be. Unfortunately that’s life – perception counts more than reality – whatever the reality is. There is, I believe, almost nothing that you can do as President to heal the country’s ills however hard you try, or however good you are.
Note though that I said “Almost Nothing”. There is, in my humble opinion, one way out of this which would set you up as a President to be remembered – whether or not you win the next election, and it is this.
It is quite clear that, in any future election, the MDP have to be free to campaign as they wish. It is also clear that Nasheed MUST be free to campaign also. Only if he loses a genuine, free and fair, election in which he was openly given every facility to campaign, will the world (and I dare say many Maldivians) put the doubts about the 7th Feb behind them. Indicting him in a court whose authority is being challenged will simply make things worse.
It is also clear that a real leader must recognise publicly the issues surrounding the judiciary, and I suspect some fundamental issues of a faulty constitution and legal system.
A secondary, related issue, is the wide perception that drugs and gross corruption are in some way related to politics in dark corners. Is it coincidence that Burma is a major heroin producer? It will take a brave man to sweep out the taint of past corruption which runs a real risk of becoming a current problem, and even fatally tainting the next election.
Now to something I do really know about – money, oil and energy. The Maldives runs the risk of becoming bankrupted by its oil use – at the very least its economic development will be curtailed and people will eventually become poorer. The solutions are there and both affordable and financeable – or rather they were. You will never attract the level of finance needed to wean your society off expensive oil unless you have an environment where contract law is sacrosanct, the threat of nationalisation is removed, and you have transparent and predictable government and structures. Even the talk of nationalising the airport will set the country’s investment plans back decades.
In summary – I think you have an almost impossible hand to play. There are some cards you can play – but I fear that your advisors and political colleagues may hold you back from the rather brave decisions needed to play them. Play them, though, and the world will sit up and notice.
I wish you all the best,
Mike MasonPrevious post Next post