Almost half of the Maldives resident population is under 25, making them a significant part of the country’s electorate ahead of presidential polls due to be held later this year. The Maldives Independent spoke to young people about the political crisis that began earlier this month.
A state of emergency was imposed on February 5 because President Abdulla Yameen claimed there was a coup plot that needed investigating.
Days beforehand the Supreme Court said that nine prisoners, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, should be released and that lawmakers who had been stripped of their seats should be reinstated. It also said that nobody had authority over the Supreme Court. The court later annulled parts of the ruling – about the prisoners’ release and oversight.
“The average Maldivian does not benefit from this ruling,” said 27-year old Moosa Hassan*. “The ruling, much like other Supreme Court rulings, was politically motivated. The difference is that this time it favours the opposition.”
The top court meddled with 2013’s presidential elections to Yameen’s advantage and even upheld Nasheed’s conviction on controversial terror charges. But the February 1 decision turned the tide for the opposition, albeit briefly.
“I do not think some of the opposition figures wrongfully convicted deserve to be freed. That being said, I also think a fair trial is necessary for them,” said 18-year old Izana Ahmed, who will be a first-time voter in this year’s elections.
She and others spoke about the May Day detainees who were arrested in 2015 during the country’s largest-ever opposition rally, remarking on the selective nature of justice because the court had only ordered the release of high-profile inmates.
“What I want is judicial accountability, followed by the release of political prisoners, followed by free and fair elections but that isn’t happening,” said 23-year old Aimon Latheef.
“The Supreme Court effectively said that there shall be no oversight and no accountability for their ruling and that should not be allowed to happen in any case. I also don’t believe the court was being very independent and impartial with their ruling.”
The young people interviewed did not feel represented by any one politician or party and none of them have connections to the country’s political parties.
“I am not sure who I’m supposed to reach out to at this point,” said 23-year-old Anisa Mohamed*. “The parliamentary representative? None of the MPs listen to people. It’s not easy to get a hold of them anyway. It’s hard to protest against the government without accidentally supporting the majority opposition that you don’t really believe in. There’s no political leader that seems to care about anything I do.”
Maldivian politics, already riven by brazen feuding and machinations, is dominated by a few men aged 50 or over.
“I don’t feel connected at all. Not even the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) is helping their cause here,” said 19-year old Saleema Ali*. “Since Nasheed left, I don’t believe the MDP has tried to pump out another aspiring leader. Rallying behind someone is admirable, yes, but not thinking of the future is what’s hurting them.
“It’s up to them to cultivate a new brand of leaders who have the qualities they need. Don’t even get me started on the empty promises and ‘Youth Nation’ of Yameen’s administration. He is destroying our environment, our sovereignty, our way of life. Our education system continues to screw us over even after a lot of us have graduated, and corruption reigns supreme.”
Last October the World Bank said almost a quarter of Maldivian youths were not in education, employment or training, despite Yameen’s election pledge to create 94,000 jobs for young people during his five-year rule.
The employment share of Maldivians in the booming tourism and construction industries – the main drivers of economic growth – is relatively low as both sectors attract migrant workers.
“This regime has never listened to my voice or allowed me the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution,” said 19-year old Ahmed Aiham, who felt there was no political party that aligned with his hopes for the country.
“Right now, I see a battle of power-hungry elites and although I do not see our situation improving ten-fold with Yameen out of the picture, I do believe it is the right step towards change. If we are to be content with the current opposition, then as a nation, I do believe that we will still suffer in the future.”
The prospect of free and fair elections is bleak, with all opposition leaders either in exile or behind bars. Talks had begun on fielding a unity candidate to defeat Yameen, but it remains to be seen how the opposition fares after recent setbacks.
“I personally don’t think any of the ‘current’ leaders are suitable enough to run the presidency, but they should be allowed to run,” said 20-year old Dhumya Ahmed. “Also, I don’t think I feel connected to the leaders and especially the current president, I personally don’t believe he is working for the welfare of the people.”
“There are lesser evils maybe, but I do not think there’s anyone out there on a political platform that represents the true interests of the people. Rather, I see them support whatever it is that their party decides to rally for,” said Aimon.
It is the second state of emergency declared under Yameen’s rule. The first was imposed in 2015 and came days before a mass MDP protest. The country had already experienced years of instability by that point including Nasheed’s exit in 2012, forced out by what his supporters say was a coup.
“The current crisis is the most helpless I’ve felt,” said Anisa. “The 2012 coup really destabilized the country, and I really feel people wanted some calm and stability after all the chaos that ensued. That’s one of the reasons people are not motivated to protest. That and the opposition is useless. Perhaps things will change in the next election.”
The city has been in chaos ever since Nasheed was ousted, said 22-year old Reesha Hameed*. “Ever since then the public’s frustration bubbles to the surface from time to time but we have to go on with our lives, go to work and earn a living too.”
Some believe it is up to young people to participate in politics, despite the disconnect.
“I think we’re all a part of it whether we want to be or not. It all comes down to whether an individual will use their rights and freedom to call for what’s right,” said Izana.
The sense of frustration is evident among the young people interviewed, with calls for transparency and accountability, but also acceptance that there is no such thing as a perfect government.
“Perhaps a government that listened and answered better might be easier to convince than one that ignores the people’s pleas. It does not necessarily mean that such a government, if it comes, will also implement those changes the public want. Especially changes in law enforcement and the legal system,” said Moosa.
Although the current political situation is bleak, 23-year-old Zayan wants there to be an election with “convincing” candidates for the future of Maldivians.
Anisa simply wants the voices of young people to be heard. “Can we just have a place where we talk about what’s important for us?”
*names have been changed
Photos: Munshid Mohamed