Any successful partnership and alliance is based on mutual respect and understanding. However, such partnerships break down when unilateral prejudices creep in and the trust is broken. This is what led the Maldives to take strong action and leave the Commonwealth. The Maldives has always viewed the organisation as a platform for greater good and has proactively engaged with all Commonwealth initiatives.
However, not only have the country’s efforts gone unnoticed, the Maldives was being targeted by the Commonwealth Secretariat to unfair scrutiny on multiple occasions. The Secretariat failed to understand the dynamics of politics in a small island state.
Taking into consideration that the Maldives is an evolving democracy, the Commonwealth could have played a monumental role in developing and strengthening its democratic institutions. However, instead of engaging in meaningful dialogue towards furthering the democratic process, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) allowed itself to be drawn into the internal politics of the country. The questions and uncertainties that the CMAG generated in the political environment resulted in the loss of several investments and project financing opportunities.
Some of the group’s actions thereafter gave the international community the impression that the Commonwealth Secretariat was not keen on constructive dialogue but was allegedly influenced by certain individuals who themselves had scant regard for the sovereignty and integrity of the Maldives. Since 2009, the Commonwealth has contributed little towards the democratic process in the Maldives and turned a deaf ear to several requests for help with technical assistance from the government.
The Commonwealth has sought to take punitive actions against the Maldives since 2012 after the then president resigned, and the transfer of power took place as per the procedures set out in the Constitution. The CMAG has contravened its own mandate as outlined in Perth in 2011. This mandate clearly states that intervention should take place only when democracy is derailed or democratically elected governments are unconstitutionally overthrown. The Commonwealth’s decision to penalise the Maldives was unjustified especially given that the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI), with members appointed by the Commonwealth, found that the transfer of power was consistent with constitutional provisions.
Democracy is not a “one size fits all” option that can be transferred from one country to another. Democracy evolves over time and moulds itself with the ethnic, socio-political fabric of a country. Such an evolution is taking place in the Maldives and the international community needs to recognise this. Small as the Maldives may be, with a nearly 100 per cent education coverage, it has a highly educated and informed electorate, 50 per cent of whom are registered members of a political party. This does give rise to political debate and dissent even amongst families where the husband may favour one political party and the wife subscribes to a different political thought. This makes the situation polarised, giving it little space for flexibility, and yet the Maldivians respect democracy.
The country today is a multi-party democracy with two elections having been held under the provisions of the 2008 Constitution. Even today, the Majlis — the Maldivian parliament — represents a cross-section of political thought via multiple parties. And yet accusations of stifling democracy are hurled at the country.
If the international community had taken a serious look at the Maldivian response to the recommendations of the CMAG it would have realised that the later actions of the Secretariat were nearly vindictive. In fact, the government of Maldives has made significant progress on the recommendations made by the CMAG and has continuously upheld the core values of the Commonwealth Charter, the principles and values of the Maldivian constitution and international legal instruments.
Even during the period of unfair censure by the CMAG, the Maldives has always been open to outside scrutiny and has been working to address challenges. The country has been falsely and baselessly accused of breaching every clause of the Commonwealth Charter and causing complete decay in the economic climate of the country.
Since November 2013, the present government has enacted 110 articles of legislation. Of these 94 are directly related to the core values of the Commonwealth Charter; of which 69 were specific to promoting human rights, strengthening democratic governance, and reinforcing separation of powers.
The Commonwealth has time and again stated that there is a disregard for human rights in the Maldives. The proponents of this line of thought seem to forget that it was because of the country’s commitment to safeguard human rights that the courts allowed a former president, who was serving a jail sentence, to go overseas for medical treatment. It is however this very person who has abused the Maldivian judicial system by misusing this human right and sought asylum overseas from where he conducts anti-Maldivian propaganda. The fact that the courts allowed a deemed political rival to the current regime to go overseas in the middle of his serving a sentence shows the independence of the judiciary and a complete separation of powers.
It slowly became clear that the Commonwealth was abandoning its philosophy which states “association of independent and equal sovereign states, each responsible for its own policies, consulting and co-operating in the common interests of our peoples and in the promotion of international understanding.” International associations and non-political bodies are meant to promote bonding and cooperation; these organisations do not indulge in activities that destabilise member states as has been the case with the CMAG’s role in the Maldives.
Trust and faith are a two-way street; one cannot expect it to be a one-sided affair. This total lack of trust and being blinded to facts ultimately led the Maldives to take a call to protect its sovereignty and sever its relations with the Commonwealth. It was a call taken with anguish but yet had to be taken.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Why Maldives left’)