Like many others, I also tuned in yesterday to catch the announcement in London of the “United Maldives Opposition” coalition.
This new coalition, to be led by former VP Mohamed Jameel, has apparently agreed to dislodge Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s regime and restore democracy and the rule of law in the Maldives.
The coalition was announced by former President Mohamed Nasheed.
On stage were several exiled Maldivian politicians and representatives of former prominent regime figures who have since been thrown in prison. They also announced a 19 member shadow cabinet, also comprising a number of former regime officials who have since fallen out of favour.
Together, they vowed to “set aside differences” and work towards this goal of restoring democracy.
I have been observing the reaction to this announcement on social media – and it has been plenty divisive.
There are those who are revolted by the fact that this coalition for democracy is led by Mohamed Jameel – sometimes derisively called bondibaiy Jameel; a vile, unpleasant man whose past record includes activities ranging from publishing anti-semitic hate pamphlets to participating in a coup, to publicly vowing during the 2013 campaign to prevent Nasheed from occupying office even if he won the election.
Among the “advisers” in the shadow cabinet are former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim, the retired colonel who played a pivotal role in the 7 Feb 2012 coup that overthrew the democratic government and helped cement the position of the anti-democratic Waheed regime that replaced it. Nazim is now in prison, after allegedly crossing swords with his cabinet rival Ahmed Adeeb and losing.
Of course, the coalition has also generously embraced Ahmed Adeeb – the once seemingly all-powerful public face of the regime – who met his downfall last year over his alleged involvement in an explosion on the President’s speedboat and is currently indicted in a series of crimes, including a multi-million dollar embezzlement scandal.
President Nasheed termed the London announcement “historic” and yet, somehow, I did not hear an applause.
I couldn’t help but notice that nobody seems particularly reinvigorated by this supposedly momentous announcement.
Sure, there are those putting up a brave face, defending Nasheed’s decision and wisdom in assembling this allegedly Lincoln-esque ‘team of rivals’. But I simply don’t sense any palpable excitement. It sounds less like the beginnings of a political revolution, and more like a tired, unconvincing hail mary.
Many vocal Maldivian democrats are split into rival camps over this announcement, and the harsh, bitter nature of their twitter arguments has been troubling me since yesterday.
To be clear, in general, both the sceptics and supporters of this coalition have this much in common:
- They both support democracy and ouster of the regime
- Both agree Jameel is an anti-democratic bigot
- Both think something needs to be done
- Neither can come up with a better short term plan to counter the regime
In politics, pragmatism is important. Indeed, it is absolutely necessary to bury differences and work together with people you disagree with. But surely, for any coalition to work, there needs to be some common ideal or goal. Some common interest.
My problem with the United Maldives Opposition is that, once you take this bunch and set aside their differences, there’s practically nothing in common among them (except perhaps the burning desire to see YAG overthrown. Even then, revenge and reform are simply not the same goal)
Besides, this “coalition” tactic has already been tried last year, when Nasheed decided that democracy could only be saved by aligning with Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim – one of the main villains of the 2013’s stolen elections.
That coalition didn’t last long, as the businessman Gasim (quite predictably-) succumbed to regime pressure and bailed out – leaving the MDP high and dry – and completely derailed the momentum of the public movement that had been picking up steam since the beginning of the year.
I absolutely understand the sentiments of the supporters of this ludicrous coalition. I understand (as one would hope) that they’re not exactly fans of Jameel’s or Adeeb’s worldviews. They believe it is important to project unity among the democratic ranks. They feel that cynicism isn’t helping. They feel that doing something is better than nothing.
And yet, I notice that instead of providing a convincing explanation as to why they think this new coalition would work (where the previous one failed), they tend to respond along the lines of “Yeah? You have a better idea?”
(I actually do, It’s called “Don’t waste your time with the likes of Jameel”)
Some of them express frustration with the public and their seeming resignation to the status quo.
I’ve even seen the quite remarkable statement that the democratic movement cannot wait for the public to catch up. “Where is this public you speak of? Why aren’t they out on the streets protesting?”…“If we don’t act now, we’re doomed.”
I sincerely understand the frustration, I do. I feel it myself. But I can’t for the life of me see how you can return power to the people without involving the people.
There is clearly huge public discontent against the regime; proven in a series of massive anti-regime protests, culminating in May Day 2015 – the largest rally in the nation’s history.
But due to a series of missteps by the opposition (and, of course, intimidation and harassment by the regime) that momentum has dissipated since then.
Simply put, today there is no plan. MDP’s party structure is slowly withering away. There is no obvious second rung of leadership to take over from Nasheed. There is no real grassroots movement that I am aware of. All that public resentment, and yet there is no framework or pathway to translate it into action.
I am convinced that street protests are quite futile against the onslaught of regime thuggery; strikes and civil disobedience movements are out of the question in the absence of any unions worth the name in the country.
And yet, the way I think, democracy can only return when people believe in it. It sucks that the public has grown cynical and prone to resignation – but isn’t that exactly the difficult task laid out for the democratic party, and where it should be focusing its energies on?
The MDP has done this in the past, and I believe it can go back and do it again.
None of this is easy or doable in the short term, I admit.
The regime run by a paranoid, uncharismatic autocrat will fall inevitably, but I am yet to be convinced that this ‘coalition’ of regime discards should be the ones waiting in line to take over.
The press conference following the announcement was painful to watch.
Jameel’s incoherent rambling in response to pretty straightforward questions did not inspire any confidence. There was a litany of angry complaints, but no hint of a strategy or anything akin to a plan or coherent vision.
I am bothered by Jameel’s failure to publicly renounce his hateful views, or apologize for his past crimes against the public. (My twitter jokes about his massive forehead, or mockery of his pronunciation and bondibaiy puns may seem mean and unbecoming of me, but those are actually the kindest things I have to say about him)
Also, the factual inaccuracies in his statements concern me. Even during the announcement, he repeated some of his imagined recollections, including fantasies of getting elected fairly in an election, and being removed undemocratically.
Those of us with memories that stretch back to 2013 remember that he was installed in office by a rogue Supreme Court through a blatantly undemocratic process, and removed from the office that he illegally occupied through an entirely constitutional process called impeachment by the Parliament.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll be thrilled and go tap dancing on a lotus bed if this bondibaiy coalition turns out to be the revolution we’ve all been waiting for.
But I just don’t see it happening.