This is a fictional story originally published in Dhivehi Observer on 31st July 2004. Story written by Muju Naeem, Edited by Andrew Finn.
The Early Days
One year has passed since the day President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom left in exile. His life is now based in Nigeria, staying with friends he made back in 1969 when he was a teacher there. It was the smartest move ever made by the despot, by avoiding bloodshed in the capital city of Male’. Attempts to bring him back to the country to stand trial for the crimes he committed whilst abusing the power of the highest executive, have been futile. Hope he is happy there.
Ex-president Gayoom’s departure followed the critical mistakes he made leading up to his departure. Early in the year 2004, the pro-reform public organised a small peaceful gathering to deliver a letter informing the activities of MDP and other united reformists. This gathering was thwarted by mass arrests of reformists though out the capital city. The reformists waited for the situation to calm down before another peaceful gathering could be organised. This time the demands were to restore peace and order in the country and the immediate and unconditional resignation of the presidency. The president responded to the unarmed public with rubber bullets and tear gas; claiming it was un-Maldivian to do such activities. He claimed it was done in the interest of national security. The public had seen enough of this mans unrelenting iron fist, his strong hold on their lives. A do-or-die mob took matters into their own hands and was on the verge of organising a not-so-peaceful gathering. Gayoom got the hint that his reign of terror was over. Before the gathering could take place he secretly left the country in the early hours of the morning.
When Gayoom left, the country was on the verge of a civil war. The local communities were divided between reformists, wealthy Gayoom supporters and the poor folks that were simply stuck in the middle. Not sure of their future, they were afraid to speak out in fear of repercussions. It was dark scary times.
In the middle of all the despair Gayoom’s resignation and subsequent departure from the country brought hope and much confusion to the population of Maldives. The country was on the brink of division.
The remnants that remained from the Gayoom regime tried to seize control of the nation for their own gains. Ilyas Ibrahim and Abdullah Yameen along with high ranking leaders within the NSS declared martial law and tried to take control. The public remained subdued for a week before coming out in force to demand fair elections and proper rule of law. Many were arrested and jailed. The dead bodies of five pro-reform activists were found in the capital city of Male’. Cause of death remains unknown.
Things would have continued to degenerate if the UN had not stepped in to stabilize the situation. After the unexplained deaths, the uprising that followed was backed by the UN demanding fair elections and accountability. Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members and other political activists in exile started arriving back in the capital under the protection of UN peace keepers. Ilyas Ibrahim and Yameen relinquished power to an interim government peacefully. Things began to change.
One of the first things done by the interim government was to declare that the Maldives would be run by a true democracy. Parties were formed. Defections from the already existing MDP created the Socialist Democratic Party of Maldives (SDP). Maldives National Congress (MNC) and the Maldivian Conservative Party (MCP) also came into play in Maldivian politics. The state in an attempt to discourage future leaders from abusing Islam for their own personal and political gains separated itself from religion. The public was apprehensive of the new changes, unsure what this new system of governance would hold for their future and religion. Allegations against members of some of the parties about drug addicts and power hungry disgruntled ex-Gayyoomists with no respect for Islam were laid to rest by the announcement of the Supreme Islamic Council of Maldives and its role in Maldivian politics. The council was given a permanent place in the parliament and their role was to ensure that Maldivian’s remain true to our religion of Islam whilst embracing the developments of the west and the east. This council, whilst ensuring this, were not allowed to gain power itself, but was to remain rather as a regulatory body. In parliament they would guarantee that Islam in theMaldives would not be compromised by any act of parliament. The circle of five in Maldivian politics was born.
Islam would remain the official religion of Maldives by order of the Constitution.
The second most important announcement of the Interim government was the deregulation of all media. Copyright laws were introduced and censorship was removed. Freedom of the press and speech was recognised as most crucial towards reform and re-building a nation. This was followed by decreasing the voting age to 18 from 21. This was based on the fact that the interim government recognises everybody above the age of 18 as legally adults and they too have a say in how the country should be run.
Elections were held to elect the Members of the parliament. The public was determined to make sure that the parliament was truly representative of every Maldivian regardless of whom they are or from where they came. As the dust settled after the elections, MDP had gained the most number of seats. The rest were for the most part evenly divided including a few independent MP’s. The new parliament was now in place.
First on the agenda was the presidential election. It was unanimously determined by the parliament that the presidential term should not exceed that of 2 five year terms, under any circumstances. It was a one off a kind decision as they decided that it was the one law of the country that could not ever be amended at a later date by anyone for personal gains.
All parties were requested to present their candidates, Independent candidates were also asked to come forward for the presidential election.
The parties held their own caucus style elections through out the nation to come up with their candidates to nominate. They presented the parliament with 4 candidates, one for each party. As the candidates started to campaign officially for the presidency there were 4 partisan candidates and 3 independents. Two of the independents would later drop out of the race partially due to lack of funds but also through lack of support.
The election had unprecedented large voter turnout in the history of Maldives. The biggest shock came when the sole independent candidate left, won the election over the 4 party candidates. It is believed this is due to the fact that the majority of the public was still uncertain about the whole party system. As time went by the public opinions changed and would later believe that the party system is one of the best things to ever happen to the country.
Second on the agenda for the new parliament was to make preparation for the necessary amendments to the constitution. Today amendments to the constitution are being made according to the changing requirements of the people in a constantly changing world.
As the new president took oath for the highest executive of the nation, he was faced with the massive task of re-building a nation from the ground up. The next few moves he made would determine the future of his presidency.
The first issue talked about by the new government was the issue of employment and worker rights. Working times and unions for fair treatments of workers were put into place to protect the Maldivian working public. The government would have no control of the unions. Working hours were changed to nine to five for both government and private sectors as official working hours. It was an important move by the government to make sure that the private and the public sector worked effectively in the same time frame of the day. It proved to be a better system than the half day public sector and the 12 hours plus in the private sector that was in place during the Gayoom regime. The weekend would remain the same as before with Friday and Saturday as the weekend.
During the time of the workers “revolution”, the agenda of minimum wage became a major issue. Old Gayoom era wages like MRF1500 for the public sector and the completely unregulated wages of the private sector were creating massive social and economic problems for individual families. It had been taking its toll.
The government graciously acknowledged the problem and a study was conducted to find out how much is a viable minimum starting wage for all employees, regardless of which sector they work in. The only condition was that the workers had to be above the age of 18 years to be eligible to receive the minimum wage benefit.
The finding of the study revealed that a realistic monthly starting wage for all working Maldivian’s would be MRF6000, a sharp contrast to the Gayoom era wages. The new minimum wage was implemented. Within months the living conditions and the lifestyles of the average Maldivian increased dramatically. The value of the money in comparison to foreign currencies around the world rose considerably as increased public spending and Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) regulations to control inflation and monetary value were put in place and maintained. Maldivian’s were finally becoming rich as a community. The grossly unfair wealth distribution and the large income disparity that existed during the “dark ages” of Gayoom slowly began to fade into memory. With the new changes firmly in place Maldives would later go on to become an economic powerhouse in the SAARC region. It was time for Maldives to be removed from the list of under developed and poor nations and graduate into a fast developing nation with prospects.
The president could have been a great chess player. Completely backed by the parliament now, it was like him and his government could do no wrong. His moves were calculated to the last detail. He knew what the public wanted next even before it became an issue in parliament. And he had his next move ready and waiting.
It is widely believed that he knew mass education of the peoples was the next best thing that he could do for the country. It would create the work force needed to move the country forward. But he was now faced with a bigger problem. There was no focused direction forward that existed that we could go towards. Small businesses and resort ownership and such were all fine, but it lacked direction completely. This was no longer the case. He had envisaged a way to provide that focus for all sectors of the nation. His next move made it certain the sophomore president’s star would remain high in the sky for years to come.
The story also appeared in my previous blog here on Saturday, May 22nd, 2007.