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#Maldives: Hopes for True Democracy Dimmed by Millionaire Branson, Mark Lynas and Srdja Popovic's Battle to Reinstate Nasheed

#Maldives: The current political struggle in the Maldives has been grossly oversimplified and wrongly reported by some foreign powers and foreign media as a military coup that put back in power the government of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. An unbiased look at the facts of the popular non-violent struggle that led to the transfer of power on February 7th shows that it was neither a coup, nor was it an illegal ouster of a "democratic" leader. Rather, it reveals the triumph of the Maldivian people over an increasingly dictatorial leader, Mohamed Nasheed, a man who had repeatedly violated the Constitution. Fortunately for the citizens of this highly vulnerable country, their struggle has been recognized by the world powers that continue to keep a close eye on the Maldives, namely India and the United States.

Nasheed's sudden claim of a military coup, over 24 hours after his public resignation telecast on all local television stations, has been blamed on his closest confidante MP Mariya Didi, by senior officials and MPs from within his own party. Others blame it on MP Reeko Moosa Maniku, then interim President of Nasheed's party (MDP), a man who lost millions in terms of illegal contracts and payouts due to Nasheed's resignation. The more daring of MDP leaders and MPs who spoke out against Nasheed's lies and called for reform within MDP were summarily ousted from their own party. This case of unjust and illegal removal of elected party officials from the party's two top posts is now in court.

However, an analysis of the current international campaign to reinstate Nasheed in violation of the Maldives constitution and laws show a far more sinister picture. It shows that this is not a case of a vascillating leader, but one of foreign intervention in a poor economy by rich Westerners, multinationals with vested interests and pan global organizations with no knowledge of the ground situation.

These vested interests seek to portray Nasheed's sudden rise to power in 2008 as the victory of a "popular" leader over a "dictator". Contrary to this claim, there is evidence that Nasheed was brought to power by Western vested interests. A paper owned by Nasheed's college mate Christian missionary David Hardingham, Minivan News, report in 2009 that ideas imported from Canvas, "an organisation of trainers and consultants that travel the globe to transfer their skills, knowledge and principles of non-violent struggle" provided the master plan that brought Nasheed to power. It reports that Canvas provided the ideas and strategies for Nasheed's campaign and provided MDP activists with the training to implement these. The  Minivan News article which has now been taken offline reported that Canvas executive director Srdja Popovic claimed that “Maldives was fourth in line of our successes” (Read full article from Minivan News at this alternative site).

Popovic and his team reportedly provided training and materials to MDP activists to run subversive campaigns in the islands. Popovic is an activist who achieved international fame and prestige following his lead involvement in the movement that lead to the ouster of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. His team from Canvas (Center for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies) was reported to be active in Maldives since 2006, two years before the presidential elections.

In 2006, Canvas traveled to the subcontinent to hold three training sessions on non-violent resistance: one in Male’, one in Addu and one in Colombo (Canvas was reportedly also active in retired General Sarath Fonseka's bid in the Sri Lankan elections). Canvas's reported aim was to arm MDP activists as well as members of civil society with a set of tools that could be used to overthrow government using non-violent methods. Around 20 people attended each of these sessions, some of whom, says Popovic, joined Nasheed in government posts. The three main principles espoused by the theory of non-violent struggle are unity, planning and discipline. 

Minivan News reports Shahinda Ismail of Maldives as saying that she relied totally on the Canvas manual, Non-violent struggle: 50 crucial points. “Everything I did for the group, I got from the book.”, Shahinda told Minivan. Shahinda, younger sister of Nasheed's Political Advisor Ibrahim Ismail, was Nasheed's representative on the Police Integrity Commission (PIC). She headed PIC until her resignation earlier this month to join Nasheed on his new campaign.

Minivan News further reports that during the 2008 elections, Canvas had direct contactd with MDP members, including holding Skype workshops with them, guiding them throught the campaign.

In an interview with Steve York in Belgrade in December 2000, Popvic explains his methodology as"filling the political space with, you know, like cancer". Popovic goes on to say, "We decided in that early period that the only way to provide a lot of human resources which could be trained and become useful activists [was] to work like a disease. So what we tried to do [was] to act like a huge disease, spreading all over the country".

The Maldivian experience of Popovic's transplanted revolution was indeed similar. Nasheed's party activists did indeed attempt to spread like cancer in the islands. However, Nasheed failed to win the 2008 elections on his own, perhaps because of the Reform Agenda implemented from  2004 by incumbent Gayoom or perhaps because the traditionally violent MDP could not implement non-violent strategies.

Elections data shows that Nasheed did not come to power on a popular vote in his favor. Nasheed was in fact trounced at the first round of the free and fair elections in 2008, the victor being Gayoom who took 40.63% of the vote. Nasheed received only 25.09% of the vote in 2008 elections. These facts cannot be dismissed since the 2008 elections have been accepted worldwide as free and fair.

Nasheed's success in the second round was backing by rivals Dr. Hassan Saeed and Gasim Ibrahim, who received 16.78% and 15.32% respectively in the first round. The very coalition of parties that installed Nasheed in power are now leading the coalition of parties backing current President Dr. Waheed. Ministers in Dr. Waheed's cabinet and advisors are the same as Nasheed's, having exited Nasheed's government citing irreconcilable differences on Nasheed's violations of good governance, law and order, and fundamental rights.

In an April 2012 article co-authored with Robert Helvey, Popvic calls upon his converts to finish what you start. The articles terms the February 7th transfer of power as a military coup. It says, "Mohamed Nasheed Anni, was deposed in what appears to have been a coup staged by the military and police". However, the article's factual basis is questionable by simple mistakes such as referring to Nasheed's predecessor  Gayoom as "the country's long-time military leader", a factually wrong statement.

However, more disturbing is the support given by Popovic to "finish what you start", seen by some Maldivian political commentators as an indication that Popovic and his group are behind the sudden re-organization of Nasheed's new bid for the presidency. What began on February 8th as a violent assault on private and public property, characterized by arson and targeted attacks on individuals", has whitewashed itself to give the appearance of a legitimate political campaign.

In the midst of this came the brutal murder of MP and moderate Muslim scholar Dr. Afraasheem Ali. Of the 6 people arrested so far, five are identified to be activists belonging to Nasheed's party MDP. Nasheed's cousin Eva's close friend Mariyam Naifa, a frontline flag bearer at MDP, is reported to have coordinated the murder and made the payment to the gang members involved (see RN Article on 5 October, 2012). The gang member said to have led the murder, Ali Hashim (Smith) is also reportedly a close friend of Nasheed's cousins Eva and Sabra Nooraddeen.

As Popovic notes, his "non-violent" revolution was marred by murders and killings. Murder and killing, he says, was not a worry for war torn Eastern Europe. Popovic himself is linked to two murders, that of a foreign ambassador and that of the new Prime Minister after the Serbian revolution.

Concerned citizens of the Maldives watch in trepidation as Nasheed and his militant party MDP appeared to gain ascendancy after Nasheed's recent visit to the UK. Social media reports that this visit was to raise funds for pay Popovic and his team for their assistance in a re-tooled bid for the Maldivian Presidency.

However, no well paid pan global interest group can whitewash of the transfer of power on February 7, 2012 from Nasheed to his elected Vice President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan as a coup on any legal basis. Even an activist of Popvic's credentials cannot hide the fact that Nasheed resigned, nor that his resignation was voluntary and without coercion. Nasheed has been unable to show any evidence that he, his family and supporters were threatened with their lives. Nasheed claimed that the threat was made to his former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim, Tholhath has denied even alluding to such a threat. Eyewitnesses corroborate Tholhath's statement on what he told his President. Public statements by other ministers in Nasheed's cabinet about his interactions with them during the hours that led to his resignation verify that, at no time, had Nasheed told any cabinet Minister that he was resigning under duress.

Nasheed's allegations that he was forced to resign at gunpoint has also been factually refuted by both his close aides and the military. An internationally backed and transparent investigation into the transfer of power, which was closely monitored by reputed international observers, found that the transfer of power on February 7th was legal and constitutional. These observers, respected judges from New Zealand and Canada selected by the UN and Commonwealth, participated in the investigation heard depositions and statements, the majority of which was by Nasheed's family, close friends and leaders of his party.

In addition to Popovic and his network, Nasheed is publicly backed by millionaire Richard Branson of Virgin Group. Branson led a petition  launched by Nasheed's college mate Christian missionary David Hardingham calling upon Dr. Waheed to bypass the Constitution and due legal process and to hold an elections in October 2012. The petition by Nasheed's friends published in The Guardian ignored the facts of the country's independent Prosecutor General's criminal case against Nasheed. It called the PG's case spurious civil and criminal charges" and "a strategy of legal harassment pursued by the illegitimate regime of Mohamed Waheed" The "sole purpose" of the criminal case against Nasheed, according to Branson and his friends, "is to sideline Nasheed from active politics and further stamp out any political opposition".

Despite the vocal and powerful lobby of the rich, fortunately for Maldives, the transparent legal facts of the case, a criminal case lodged by the independent Prosecutor General against Nasheed for the illegal and unconstitutional arrest of a judge, have been accepted by legitimate foreign governments and international organizations.

A very strong response to Branson and his friends by Dr. Hassan Saeed, former Senior Political Advisor to Nasheed, arues that "claims that the islands' new leaders are a threat to democracy don't stack up" (The Guardian, September 25th, 2012). Hassan Saeed, a highly respected lawyer and former Attorney General, charges, "... when in power he [Nasheed] behaved in exactly the same way [as Gayoom] when he illegally arrested the chief judge after he passed a ruling he did not like".

Nasheed's petition signatories Branson and actor Ed Norton (another signatory to the petition) are hardly concerned bystanders purely concerned with democracy. On the contrary, they are close friends of a Singaporean investor in Maldives, Sonu Shivdasani, Chairman and CEO of Soneva Resorts in the Maldives. Branson is said to be deeply involved in the SLOW LIFE (Sustainable-Local-Organic-Wholesome Learning-Inspiring-Fun-Experiences) initiative by Sonu under his Six Senses properties flag. Signatories to the petition, Branson, actor Edward Norton and actress Daryl Hannah joined Sonu at his launching ofSLOWLIFE in 2011. Nasheed was the chief guest.

Similarly, signatory Mark Lynas (environmentalist and author) has vested interests in reinstating Nasheed's government. Lynas was Nasheed's "Climate Change Advisor", drawing a stipend from the Maldivian Treasury for this position. Similarly, Nasheed's college mate and owner of Minivan News, David Hardingham was rewarded by Nasheed with the post of "Honorary Consul for Salisbury" another post which was paid for by the Maldivian Treasury. Hardingham is a signatory to the petition and leads an anti-Maldives Tourism campaign calling upon European tourists to boycott Maldives until Nasheed is reinstated. Lynas's supposed championing of "democracy" in Maldives will also no doubt lend him much needed publicity to market his image as a promoter of carbon-neutrality.

For these foreign lobbysist for Nasheed, his rise to power was akin to an "Arab Spring" revolution, Nasheed himself referred to as the father of democracy. For the disillusioned who worked day and night to put Nasheed in power, its a tough lesson in the fickleness of politicians. Regardless of which point of view is held, there is widespread agreement that the Maldives "Yellow Spring" (sometimes also called Yellow Fever by grass roots members of opposing parties) was a national disaster of gigantic proportions.

Political pundits say that Nasheed's biggest victim has been multi-party democracy in the Maldives. Economic sages say, Nasheed destroyed the economy. Social analysts point to the increasing violent crimes being committed and the rise of gang rule in society. Lawyers decry Nasheed's war with the Judiciary, charging that this has prevented the formation of a trusted and independent Judiciary in the country.

As the Maldives struggles through its third year of economic recession and high inflation, the average citizen is frustrated and aggravated by dramas on the non-funtional Parliament, seemingly endless street riots, and war of words between politicians, all telecast live to the citizen working 24 hours to make ends meet. The apparent frivolity of both government and parliamentary politicians and their rapid crossing over between rival parties are public jokes from the edlerly grandparents down to school age children.

Economic woes, social ills and the failure of the newly elected Government and Parliament have contributed to the widely held public view is that "party system" has destroyed the country. The large segment of population socializing in the popular tea-kade's and coffee shops call for all political parties to be abolished and party leaders to be exiled, preferably overseas. This call for parties to be abolished is reiterated in comments on online papers, on visual radio programs and social media. In addition to the Yellows, the Blues (Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party), the Greens (Adhaalath Party) and the Pink (Progressive Party of Maldives) take their fair share of citizen angst against political parties and politicians.

Current attempts by Nasheed's rich supporters to reinstate him are ringing alarm bells amongst the conservative segment of Maldivian voters who are against foreign intervention by any radical interest group, be it in the name of "democracy" or "Islam".

A retired senior politician who requested to remain unnamed told Raajje News, "There's absolutely no difference between Popovic and "Anni's [Nasheed's] Muslim extremists". Popovic and his followers are radicals exporting ideas from their own experience. Our society is fundamentally different, our political experiences are fundamentally different, our people's aspirations are different.  An imported "Arab Spring" remedy doesn't work as we saw, we have to develop our own remedy. In their ignorance of the Maldivian situation, these Westerners are backing an organization with a history of violence, MDP. The so-called extremists are trying the same thing, they seek to import extremist thinking on Islam and Afghan Taliban dress code into Maldives". The individual, who worked senior posts in all three former administrations, those of former Presidents Nasir, Gayoom and Nasheed, also worked with Nasheed in the 2008 campaign.

No white wash of the current struggle for Nasheed to regain power by any means can make Maldivians forget the fact that the Maldives was struggling under a deepening crisis of abuse of fundamental human rights by an Executive that was consistently exceeding its democratic powers, coupled with increasing poverty and rising crime under Nasheed.

Maldivians can take heart from President Waheed's first statements to citizens that he would uphold the Constitution and restore law and order in the country. Despite immense pressure from foreign networks that backed Nasheed in 2008 such as Popovic's network and that of millionnaire Branson, and despite the violent street riots led by Nasheed and his militant party Maldives Democratic Party, President Waheed has remained focused on fulfilling this promise.

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