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Maldivians’ hopes for liberal democracy dying a rapid death

It was to much consternation that the public watched yesterday as Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed’s three new nominees to cabinet were approved by parliament. All three nominees were close friends and cronies of Pressident Nasheed. President Nasheed’s long time friend Finance Minister Ali Hashim’s business partner Mahmood Raazee was approved as Civil Aviation Minister. Nasheed’s class mate and crony Ismail Shihab’s elder brother Mohamed Shihab was approved as Home Minister. And Nasheed’s classmate and crony Husnu Suood just scraped through as Attorney General.

From Left to Right: President Nasheed, Ismail Shihab, Mohamed Shihab.

The appointment of Mohamed Shihab as Home Minister is of the gravest concern to the public. In the 1990s, Shihab was removed by then President Gayoom from his post as head of External Relations Department due to his repeated offences of bribery and corruption. Japanese Grant aid projects, Taisei company, Kuwait Fund Aid and Colombo Plan aid are just a few examples of bribery and corruption issues against Shihab. The government at the time chose not press charges against Mohamed Shihab, primarily out of respect for his father Ibrahim Shihab, a senior statesman. A few years back, Mohamed Shihab was removed from his post as Chairman of the government owned company Maldives Post, again dogged by corruption and bribery charges. He is also known to have used his offices at Maldives Post to run his Male’ parliamentary campaign.

The fact that he takes charge of the powerful Home Ministry in charge of all land issues on Male’ and the islands, and as head of all municipal administration is indeed a cause for concern. This is especially so in the light of the fact that all Ministers of State for Home Affairs so far appointed by President Nasheed have well known criminal backgrounds. A few examples are Ministers of State for Home Affairs Ahmed Shafeeq (commonly known as Goathi Vagu or Land (property) Thief for his criminal activities in relation to housing plots), Ahmed Mujuthaba, younger brother of well known gang lord and loan shark Thimarafushi Musthafa (MDP financier) and Monaza Naeem, reputed for bribery and corruption in government construction contracts and tourism operations.

Leaving aside Mohamed Shihab’s corrupt background, it is disappointing to see such as close crony of President Nasheed become the political head of the Maldives Police Service. The police since becoming a civil force a few years back had made great strides in its development as a community police force before Nasheed’s political appointee Ahmed Faseeh took over as Commissioner. Since then, the police has been controlled directly by President Nasheed much to the detriment of public peace and human rights. Police have repeatedly attacked peaceful public gatherings inflicting bodily harm on several members of the public, it has made unlawful arrests of peaceful individuals and is presently participating fully in President Nasheed’s unlawful persecution of opposition leaders. Repeated violations of the human rights of police detainees have been reported to the Human Rights Commission.

The public much anticipated that an honest and upright citizen would be given the important post of Home Minister, one who would not be Nasheed’s stooge. However, Mohamed Shihab, former parliamentary whip of President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, is unlikely to be an independent authority who would uphold the rule of law.

This situation is exacerbated by the appointment of President Nasheed’s class mate and crony Husnu Suood as Attorney General.

Attorney General Suood (right) photographed intimidating a member of the public near the Parliament House.

Husnu Suood has been lead lawyer for MDP in several court cases. Suood takes on this portfolio at a time that the public require the Nasheed government to be brought back into the confines of the constitution and the law. President’s Nasheed has begun several initiatives that violate the Maldives constitution, and has personally violated the constitution and laws with many of his actions. The fact that the former Attorney General tried to stop these violations is the key reason that she was arbitrarily sacked. It is unlikely that such a close crony of President Nasheed’s will provide independent advice. To the contrary, the Attorney General’s job is likely to be to find legal loopholes for President Nasheed’s major undertaking at the present, the systemic persecution of opposition leaders.

By endorsing these appointees, the new parliament has indeed failed miserably in its mandate to function as a check to the government. As this clearly demonstrates, the common citizen is the loser in the ongoing political backroom deals. Only time will tell if President Nasheed will honor his side of the deal to let up on his persecution of individual opposition leaders on the other side of these deals. It is well known that President Nasheed has DRP Deputy Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and colleagues Abdulla Shahid and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim in an iron-grip on trumped-up charges of corruption. They in turn have Nasheed in a stranglehold with their control over the parliament.

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