Good evening everyone,
Twenty years ago a small group of Maldivians including myself sat around we talked about many issues about the government. We talked about justice, we talked about freedom of expression, we talked about religion and we talked about the need to change things. We talked about the conditions that many Maldivians were living in. Standing here today the things that we were discussing are actually usual things that you might hear in anywhere in England – in pubs, libraries and the tube trains – in anywhere.
But for us talking about these issues was very precarious. It was dangerous. We suffered a lot for simply talking and writing about things. Many of us were jailed, some of us were tortured for standing up for what we believed in; for talking about what was right; for taking a stance for our ideals.
At that time many Maldivians thought and believed that we were simply wasting out time. Many people, time and time again, told me how can you take up the state with simply ideal? But we were stubborn. We didn’t listen to them and we went on just simply doing our work, doing what we thought to be the right thing, hoping that this would create small ripples that would have an effect on things happening in the Maldives. Hoping that this would change and this would create a tsunami effect that would hopefully change many things. Finally it was a tsunami that became a catalyst for change in the Maldives.
We thought that to be able to change the system of governance in the Maldives, there was a need to form organized political activity – that’s what you call political parties. But we were not allowed to do that at home. So therefore, we left the Maldives – first to Sri Lanka and then to England. And we started developing our ideals and our forms and our political parties. Later on we relinquished our asylum status here. Now that was very hard. My experience is getting asylum status here was easier than relinquishing it. When I went to the Foreign Office and said, “look I want to go back home. My work is actually done here. We need to go back home and set up a party.” That created a lot of problems because they didn’t have precedence for that. So they were trying to find out how I may be able to relinquish my asylum status. My difficulty was that the British government had my Maldives passport and therefore I really had to get that before I went back home.
But finally, the British government relented and said yes ok, I can have my passport and I can go back home.
We went back and galvanized the Maldivian people in to political activism. We were able to amend the Constitution, we were able to have peaceful elections and we have been able to have a smooth transfer of power.
Democracy is still very tender in the Maldives. It’s very young and we have many challenges in front of us. Most importantly we have to be bale to deliver the needs, we have to be able to deliver the promises that we made to the people. We kept on telling people that you are having a hard life, a hard time, simply because of the form of government. And therefore, they listened to us, and they assisted us in developing another form. And once we went and we have been able to make these changes and bring about these changes, they are now expecting us to deliver on the promises. It is going to be difficult. It is a very challenging time. Economic conditions in the world, as you know, are not most favourable to us. And we have all sorts of problems. Not the least that we inherited an empty coffer. But all along, one of the most important issues that we have in mind was that if we were to install democracy in the Maldives, if we are to consolidate democracy in the Maldives, we have to save Gayoom. We have to be able to have him in a position where he is safer.
Now, that’s really proving to be quite difficult. Initially our understanding was that if we forget about the past, perhaps we can move foreword. I also thought that it would be difficult for the people of the Maldives to challenge me about injustices of the past. As I could always tell them, look, what are you talking about? What did actually happen to you? But I don’t think this is exactly working now. We have to address the past. We have to at least be able to explain to the people what went on and what happened. I am under so much pressure to continue with that process, to bring justice to the people.
But I still believe that because democracy is so new in the Maldives, we do not have democratic institutions. We do not have a judiciary. Rather, we have a judiciary. We have a new Constitution, and therefore we have it on paper. But, to say that we actually have an independent functioning judiciary would be wrong. It is very hollow – we don’t have judges and we don’t have a fair process through which we can dispense justice.
In my mind, the best process for dispensing justice would be democracy. You can have a courtroom drama. You can have plaintiff and a defendant and you can of course do that. But I don’t seriously believe that that exercise is going to produce justice. So I will still continue to be stubborn about this. And I will continue to be reserved about the need to address the past through the judiciary.
Meanwhile, so many other social problems are infesting the Maldivian society. We have a very large youth population. Far too many of them use hard drugs. We have juvenile delinquency. We have gang violence. We have over crowding in Male’. Our health system is not working. Our education system is not educating our youth. So we have a whole series of problems that we have to address and we have to take care of. Meanwhile, we have very adverse conditions – economic conditions, as well as having to deal with the former President and the past.
Now, because we’ve been able to achieve what we have been able to achieve against many odds, we still believe and we still hope that we will be able to address even these issues. We would need a lot of imaginations, we would need a lot of strength, and we would have to have a lot of courage to do all that. But I want to assure you that in the spirit of how the whole process has been working in the Maldives, we will hope to maintain this peace and we will hope to have a smooth consolidation of democracy in the Maldives.
You have to understand that Maldives is a hundred percent Muslim country. It’s not very often that you have a home grown democratic movement who has been able to galvanize the public to political activism and have a free and fair election and have smooth transfer of power. Now, I believe that if this works in the Maldives, we have a blueprint of how to change dictatorship, if we can do that there in the Maldives, it is also quite possible to do exactly the same in many countries that need good governance. You don’t have to bomb countries to install democracy. It can be done through local means and I really do hope that the commonwealth can be an institution who has all these experience of how we were able to do that.
Standing here, I see many faces who have assisted us all along this process of trying to change the Maldives and trying to make it a more democratic Maldives. I’m extremely grateful for them. I’m extremely grateful for the British government, the British civil society and the English people who have been always with us in our process to change. Wherever we went, we always did find groups of people who were willing to assist us, who were willing to work with us and who were with us until the very last moment and until we were able t succeed in changing the government. So thank you very much.
Once democracy has come to the Maldives, the problems that we have to face now are in a sense looking much greater than the whole process of bringing democracy. Consolidating democracy is very difficult. First, I have to lose power. In my mind, for us to consolidate democracy, for us to have the process going I should be defeated while in government and that should happen soon. Now, how do we go about fixing that? That is through strengthening the opposition.
We have two opposition newspapers in the Maldives and the government is still funding these opposition newspapers. We are not funding the pro-government papers. We have the former President, who we are funding and assisting, who is also the leader of the opposition. So it’s a very peculiar situation where we have the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) who wants to defeat the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – Gayoom’s Party – but at the same time they have a President who is assisting the leader of the opposition while being the leader of the government. So it is not so easy for me to always explain how we are doing this and why we are doing this.
In our country, we have had transitions before. But every time we change government’s the former leader is either mobbed and killed, or they have to leave the country and live in exile. So we’ve had this cycle. Every time we change there is violence, and every time there is change there is disruption to life and society and that takes the country many years back.
We want to look to the future. We want to see how we can build a better country. I hope that what we are doing here and I hope that what we are doing in the Maldives would facilitate us to build a better democracy.
While democracy is so important for us and everyone else, I believe, we also do face a very serious threat to our existence, which is climate change. I believe that to address climate change, one of the most important adaptation measures would be installing democracy. Democracy is such a beautiful form. Governments can react to people’s thinking and therefore, governments can be in a situation to react to change and find solutions or find the means or to be talking about these issues and hopefully coming out with solutions. So for me, one of the most important issues or adaptation measures against climatic change is strengthening democracy. It is only after we strengthen governance, that we can be talking about other things. It is through the system of governance that you can talk about issues, that you can find answers to these very serious questions.
The idea that I had about today’s discussion was that not for me to be talking so much. But actually trying to see how I may be able to answer your questions or react to your discussions or react to you issues. Instead of me standing here and giving you a lecture. So basically, the issues that stands in the Maldives are: a) you can change without violence, if it can happen in the Maldives, it can happen in many places; b) you cannot consolidate democracy by revenge or vengeance, you can only consolidate democracy by accommodating all the forces. To do that, you have to forget the past. But then the whole issue of transitional justice - there is a whole concept about transitional justice - the past is not so easy to forget. Especially if you have been done badly, you really do need to address that. So we need to find the means through which we can address the past without touching Gayoom or without being indicted. Thirdly, I believe that we can only react to climate change through good governance. And countries have to have a democratic form to be able to challenge issues of climatic change. And finally, you can throw an egg at me. I will dodge it. We have been through this.
I must say, I am very pleased to be here tonight. Once I again, thank you so much for everything that you have done to this whole process of democratizing the Maldives.
Thank you very much.