The political governance system of the Maldives has gone through a diverse process of evolution and upheaval over the short history of the archipelago. Public loss of trust and allegations of widespread corruption and issues of alleged under qualified judges resulting in blocked judicial systems have been rampant in the recent times of the Maldivian state. All most all these issues can be traced back to poor state planning and sudden course change tactics at the national, regional, atoll and island levels.
This essay will attempt to analyse select situations of the Maldivian governance history in an academic view with a special emphasis on political ideologies and governance paradigms.
Traditionally the Maldives has been a monarchy ruled by a handful of politically and economically strong individuals and their families. This is evident in the fact that the Maldives was a sultanate until the late 1800s. In this time only 4 different major families took the throne.
The monarchical reserve of power in the capital of Male’ and the surrounding K. Atoll has historic roots in the settling down of an exiled royal from the northern region of either Sri Lanka or India. This centralization of the powers of government did not pass with the eventual change from a monarchy to a parliamentary republic with presidential elections that are contested as unfair and biased to this day. The social strata of the Maldives has always been centered around the rich and powerful few by almost all accounts of written history available.
This can be observed in the way that power was distributed in the early days of the monarchical rule. The ruling class was royalty or the royal family, after which came the higher middle class of affluent learned scholars and aristocratic families of Male’ and atolls, and then came the middle class of traders who along with the aristocracy have traditionally made up the ‘Havaru’ a significantly powerfully and political informal body that influenced the decision making of the sultan by sheer threat of sheer numbers and undeniable economic and social influence. Lastly came the common citizens who was entitled to some rights and responsibilities under the sultanates constitutions although for all intents and purposes the citizenry was by and large the subjects of the ruling monarch at the mercy of the ruling class.
The learned scholars of Maldives, those from families with the capacity to send their offspring abroad to study, were especially influential in bringing about the reformist views into and easing them into the society of the sultanate. This effort to presumably empower the citizens was well received by the sultan as we can see from the establishment of the Peoples Majlis, even though the sultan at the time used this legislative purely for his own needs and there was little independence or separation of powers.
During the reign of Sultan Nooradheen he was challenged by rival political clan and in a bid to secure his sultanate the sultan appointed Doshimeyna Kileyfaanu as prime minister of the state which backfired as this move to appease the opposition did not work and saw the removal of the Prime Minister shortly after. This failed attempt to secure power eventually culminated in the removal of ruling sultan from power and the opposition coming to power with the exception that the former Prime minister Doshimeyna Kileyfaanu who played a crucial role in the change of monarchs was not reappointed. This loss of trust took form as the Great Fire of Male’. (Manik, 1997 Naseer 1998) The “Havaru” informal political assembly mechanism is highly significant in the course of the governance of the Maldives as it has influenced the governance system quite visibly.(Faaiza, 1997)
This is especially true in the case of the violent ousting of the first President of the first Republic of Maldives, Al Ameer Mohamed Ameen Dhoshimeynaa Kilegefaanu (popularly known as Mohamed Ameen Didi). President Mohamed Ameen Didi brought sweeping reforms including the empowerment of women and increasing taxation and advocating for a western vision a developed Maldivian nation. These radical changes as they were seen at the time further helped to distance him from the citizens. The death blow was finally stuck when he was eventually ousted by a violent coup which was ready and waiting when President Mohamed Ameen Didi returned from a visit abroad. Important to note here is that this was not a purely grassroots driven call for revolution, the severity of the outcome and the actual success of the coup is to be credited to the involvement of the ruling class as much as the citizens.
We can see liberal ideals slowly permeating into the society of Maldives as more and more scholars returned to the country. And these liberal ideals clashed the highly conservative beliefs and system of governance resulting in regression from democratic ideas.
The Maldives has been recorded as a constitutional government for the most part of its governance history with written laws and regulations although at times the level of implementation and awareness has is a derisive topic. We can trace back statesmanship and career politicians such as president Mohamed Ameen Didi and president Mohamed Nasheed back to the People’s Majlis. The Maldives has also has written penal code since the late 1800s.
After this initial attempt at liberal values and democratic reform the Maldives went back to a parliamentary monarchy system. When the Maldives entered into a protectorate agreement with the British crown it laid the framework for the eventual fever of nationalistic idealism that swept the country during its independence. After King Muhammad Fareed Didi attempted to give away large parts of the Maldives to the British the then cabinet minister Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyri Kilegefan, later to become the first president of the second republic of Maldives, and compatriots were galvanised into action and capitalized on the anti British sentiment and resentment in the general public to kick start a campaign with a heavy emphasis on nationalistic pride and liberal values.
Coming into the recent annals of history we start to see the Maldives shaping itself into the republic we see today. President Ibrahim Nasir ushered in major economic programs and oversaw large development projects that are credited with building the backbone of the two main industries of Maldives, tourism and fisheries.
However due to rebellion in the southern atolls and the heavy handed tactics employed to quell the rebellion and the blow to the economy when the Sri Lankan market for Maldives’ main export of dried fish collapsed, president Ibrahim Nasir’s popularity fell sharply. After not seeking reelection and being subsequently replaced by president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, it wasn’t long before president Ibrahim Nasir went into exile in Singapore where he passed away.
During president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom administration Maldives saw a mixture of conservative and liberal values with a swift national policy of westernization. This move by the government brought a lot of different development and progress. However during this period the centralisation issue persisting since the monarchy was unresolved and it eventually forced the government to reform the governance structure which unwittingly led to president Maumoon being defeated in elections by president Mohamed Nasheed who is an advocate of liberal policies and considered by many among the Maldivian population as a reformist.