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MALDIVES: Is Gayoom’s Government getting more autocratic?

Paper no.1195        20. 12. 2004

  by Sucharita Sidhanta

Democratic elections are not merely symbolic…They are competitive, periodic, inclusive definite election in which the chief decision-makers in Government are selected by citizens who enjoy broad freedom to criticize government, to publish their criticism and to present alternatives.” Jean Kirk Patrick 

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has ruled Maldives, a  country of more than 1,300 coral islands with an iron hand since 1978. That makes him the longest serving ruler and a longest serving dictator in Asia. His regime has banned dissent, jailed pro-democracy activists and demonstrators, and his government has been accused by Amnesty International of “endemic torture and unfair trials”. Like other dictators in Asia, he had come holding a torch of hope but in the course of time we find that his regime became corrupt and nepotism. 

Gayoom’s government consists of family and friends who appear to have no other obligation except to strengthen Gayoom’s position.  Gayoom’s family exhibit such power that people in Maldives fear them and go out of their way to please them by any means, these includes the businessmen as well as the underprivileged Maldivians. 

A small island nation less than 30,000 people, their livelihood, basic human rights & liberty are taken for granted by the ruling elite. The elite is always the cause of instability and suffering for the Maldivian. Gayoom claims to be the leader of a new modern democracy but we can see that the present situation in Maldives has not changed in any meaningful way.  Below is a chart showing the power and influence that Gayoom uses to control the Government. 

Gayoom’s Family Tree



During the 20 years of his reign, there were two attempts to over throw him.

  • The first was by a group of Tamil mercenaries from Sri Lanka allegedly hired by Maldivian business interests, who invaded Male by sea in Nov 1988. But Indian paratroops, sent by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi swiftly moved in and restored the authority of the Maldivian government within 24 hours.
  • The second attempt was at a parliamentary coup in 1993 when Iliyas Ibrahim, Gayoom’s brother-in-law who had held powerful ministers’ posts, sought the Majlis nomination. He got 18 votes to Gayoom’s 28. This was considered a close call, given that eight of Gayoom’s votes which came from unelected members nominated by him to the Majlis.    

Gayoom claims Maldives as a democratic country  

1. Government of Maldives has always claimed Maldives to be a democratic country and they also maintain that all elections have been conducted free and fair but it has to be noted that claims by it self do not carry any weight, unless it is substantiated by a valid endorsement. In democratic countries this endorsement is provided by political opposition in the shape of political parties. It should be kept in mind that a successful democracy requires not only democratic structures but also process and values. 

2. Democratic elections are not a fight for a survival but it is a competition to serve and competition is there, where there is a political opposition. Where there is no competition there is no democracy. Political pluralism is one of the big pillar of democracy and also a backbone of a democratic election.   

3. Democratic structures are of course a necessary condition for democracy but they are not a sufficient condition for democracy. To be a democratic country it needs a lot of common sense, good faith, decent economic progress and a vibrant civil society would be essential, along with democratic structures. Likewise good quality human resources, such as experienced judges and competent lawyers would have a vital role to play. Values must be egalitarian and communitarian not just for one self, but also oneself and everybody else. On the 9th June 2004, President Gayoom launched his democratic reform programme. Since then pro democracy meetings were banned and peace rallies have been suppressed and the pro-democracy activists were imprisoned and tortured. Maldives has become more authoritarian and less democratic since the announcement! 

4. Democratic reforms need to be conducted in a democratic way. Listening to the demands and concerns of the public about the way they would like their country to be run is essential to make a change of success. Democracy is after all about the will of the people. Outside the male, there is little understanding of concepts such democracy and human rights, let one constitutional change and political pluralism. For this the reform meetings are important.   

5. The reforms meetings are an essential pre-condition for real democratic change in the Maldives. They must continue. 

The Parliamentary election in Maldives is set to be on 31st Dec 2004. This election will be of great importance to the future of declared democratic changes and also for constitutional reforms.