Democracy!! Are we following it?
-Maeed Mohamed Zahir-
Countless years of struggle has achieved new changes! New experiences! New Visions! New Hopes! A new picture!! Struggle has achieved a so-called democracy in the small island nation of Maldives, which we call home. We have achieved a so-called press freedom, the right to speak freely, the very right to express our opinions, the basic right of peaceful assembly, to exercise basic human rights. Definitely we have seen a change. Change is happening. Change is taking place. And change will take its rightful place in due time.
This brings us to a question! Is change itself a good thing or a bad thing? Has change brought democracy? Has change achieved democracy? Or rather the most appropriate question; whether we are following democracy?
Well the constitution says we are! The constitution clearly states that “the Maldives is a sovereign, independent, democratic Republic based on the principles of Islam and is a unitary State”. So are we?
Let’s begin by understanding what democracy really means! The simple pocket dictionary meaning for the term democracy is; ‘government by all people, through elected representatives’. In a democratic form of government, there should be a parliament consisting of representatives elected by the people and this parliament has an important say in the running of the state. In other words Democracy is a system of government in which the people are able to choose by election those who shall govern.
Last October the country held its very first historical Multi-Party Presidential Elections. The election was held with 208,252 eligible voters. Presidential Elections were held in the Maldives on October 8th and the second round on the 28th. Six candidates competed, out of which one was an independent candidate and the remaining five were from five different political parties. On October 8th, no candidate gained more than 50% of the vote; a runoff was held on October 28th between Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the Dhivehi Raiyithunge Party (DRP) and Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Nasheed won the election, unseating long time incumbent Gayoom.
The Maldivian parliament, the ‘Peoples Majlis’ has 77 seats. The number of seats have been determined according to; two members for the first five thousand residents registered for each administrative division or two members for administrative divisions with less than five thousand residents; and where the residents registered to an administrative division exceed five thousand residents, one additional member for each group of five thousand residents in excess of the first five thousand.
Just a few days ago, on 9th of May, with approximately 214,405 eligible voters, the first ever Multi-Party Parliamentary Elections was held. So far the provisional result of the parliamentary elections shows that the Dhivehi Raiyithunge Party (DRP) had won 28 seats while the People’s Alliance (PA), which is in a coalition with DRP, had won 7 seats, giving DRP-PA coalition 35 seats at the Majlis. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) followed DRP closely with 26 seats, while the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (QDP) candidates had won 2 seats. The Jumhooree Party (JP) also had won 1 seat. Independent candidates won a total of 13 seats.
Well are we following democracy? It looks quite so…
As it is clearly understood that Democracy comes from the people and Democracy is the people, it’s also important that the members elected by the people again for the people should work with the people! Members of the Parliament (MPs) should always represent their constituencies, meaning they should figuratively be servants of the people who elected them to represent the people! It’s important that MPs being elected by the people should listen to the people. Elected MPs should always be available for the people. MPs should be reachable!
However, is this picture that we see today? Out of 77 seats in the parliament, 64 seats have gone to political parties clearly demonstrating that the Maldivians have ultimately turned to party politics.
Yet again a new question arises. Now are party politics democratic? Are the parties themselves democratic? Do the parties have a proper internal democracy? Now if democracy is the people and democracy comes from the people, then political parties in a democracy should also be democratic! How many parties had held national party congresses? Do they have strong internal elections for party leadership? Is the party leadership elected? Or are they self appointed?
We cannot call ourselves a democracy unless all political parties and factions in the country are democratically elected. If MPs make decisions in the parliament after being instructed by a politburo style party council, can we practice what we call democracy?
Let me leave the question open for all of you. Are we following Democracy?