Here are excerpts from President Abdulla Yameen’s speech on the island of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu Atoll on May 2, where he speaks at length on his views of democracy, criticises persisting international pressure and slams lobby efforts for sanctions by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was handed a 13 year jail sentence on terror charges.
On foreign relations:
“What I want to say is that the Maldives these days faces some coercion from the outside world. Along with that, it must be said, that if the people of Kudahuvadhoo stay steadfast, we want to think about the characteristics we think about. Every one of us Maldivians must think, about the things we need when we rule, when we bring about the developments necessary.
“We need systems, organisation to bring in finances. You have to think about which states are willing to assist and give us money in these matters. Among these states, we are using as an example, the developed countries of the first world. Previously it was the colonial powers. Or the self-proclaimed big democracies. And then amongst the example countries we notice big countries like China. We could also assess their capacity in things like assisting us.
“So in our attempts, these countries I speak of, when those who assist us shape us in this way, each of us must think, keep in mind, where the assistance to the Maldives is coming from. They don’t speak to us about anything that harms our sovereignty. Arab countries don’t speak, even a little, about anything that will rob us of our independence, our sovereignty. And they aren’t concerned about there not being democracy in the Maldives. But they too, are states where there are governments with leaders who rule over a responsible populace. The Commonwealth too, is such a place. The commonwealth too, has countries. In the Arab League, or the ISC too, there are such countries. But in giving assistance, to their allies, who are less developed, or those in need of benevolence, we need to see who display benevolence in their actions. Just talk of democracy is not going to fulfil our wants, or achieve anything.”
On the US and the National Security Agency controversy
“We must reform flaws in our system, but that does not mean overhauling it. Other countries undertake reforms too. Even the most well-known democracies do so. The biggest country. I do not want to name the country. In the most powerful nation, the military, for its work, uses regulations reserved for terrorists to violate individual rights, too tap phone calls, violates the rights of the most vulnerable. This is what was leaked, in the most famous country. This is taken as an example of rights violations. [These regulations] were made to limit rights of major offenders. Procedures that allow temporary suspension of rights was misused on the most ordinary citizen. But we are proud to say, in the Maldives, we do not support violation of individual rights.”
On democracy, Islam, and the May Day rally organised by civil society groups:
“There was a democratic activity yesterday [referring to the May Day rally]. When it was over, a lot of opinions had been expressed. But when the opinions were expressed, we heard nothing that would benefit the people. Maybe it is because we didn’t hear anything, that it ended so quickly. In the expressing of those opinions, we didn’t hear anything about housing for those who lost their homes during the tsunami. In their expressions, when they talk of the lack of democracy, we talk of the lack of income; Let’s not go to the Maldivian citizens today. As the people here in Kudahuvadhoo today. On the one hand there is democracy. On the other, there is money. We are here to fulfil our basic needs. Every father of every family would want those needs fulfilled first and foremost. Even as we operate under the label of democracy, we must work for income. Just circling around the fortress of democracy is not going to fulfil our needs.
“Democracy is based on the principle of rule by the majority. We accepted it, support it, because there is no other better system in the world. Because it allows the opinions of the majority of the people in decision-making. We want to fulfil the development needs of our country. A system of governance is established to fulfil the people’s needs. The state is elected by the people, so that their leaders may satisfy their wants. That includes the many things, Amir and Zameer, have just noted. I hear of the same from every island I visit. It is the responsibility of those who administer the government. We must fulfil those wants.
“After completing that task, the second aspect we must consider is, what sort of state is this? Do these people have a local language? Are they of the same race? Are they divided, of different religions? Or do they obey the same religion? That is where democracy comes in. The Maldivian state is a small and vulnerable, like a coconut husk floating in the turbulent currents and strong winds of the Indian Ocean.
“Then, when people born to this state, even if they are few in numbers, when they are not able to shape Maldivian affairs according to their thinking, they go and attempt to violate the rights of the rest of the people. Every sane person must think of how useful their actions are to the state. A state has certain needs, and those who govern must fulfil those needs, that is one tenet of the state. The other is the characteristics of the state – Do you have a constitution? We say, yes, we do. Does your constitution protect people’s rights? Yes, it does. Are you able to have free and fair elections? Without a doubt, the people elect their leaders through free and fair elections, even at the level of island councillors. Are the powers of the state separated? How much influence does the executive exert over your judiciary? Or how much influence does your parliament exert over the president? And then we say, our party and its ally MDA holds a majority in our parliament. Without a doubt, that will remain so, because that is the wishes of a majority of the people. If a majority of the people supported the opposition, they would not have received just 25 seats. They would have won much more.
“When they say there is no democracy, or say there is no separation of powers, we should look at countries that have western-style governance systems. Who rules in the UK? A party that holds the majority. So it is the policies of the ruling party that gets implemented. It is no different here in the Maldives. The policies the executive implements, or what we have included in our manifesto are, housing, education reforms, reclaiming land, constructing harbours – all of this is written in our manifestos. These policies are being implemented according to the votes of lawmakers elected by people who support our ideology. That is what we are doing. So when asked if we have unique characteristics, I would say yes, we have characteristics unique to us. So today, we have to question to what extent we want to maintain our unique characteristics if we want to be a sovereign state. If we want to let all of that go, and become enslaved, then I do not believe the Maldivian state has honour and dignity. It is because we do not accept that, that we celebrated 50 years of independence from a colonial power.
“Maldivians have demonstrated what they want. We want independent and sovereign state with the full choice of deciding our own affairs. That is what we are doing. And we say, let Maldivians have the choice to choose what they want. That choice will come up again, during the upcoming election, in 2018 to vote for an individual who will rule. Once that person is elected, and when the people give his party a majority of seats in the People’s Majlis, then that party and that president will decide what to do based on the manifesto they sold, in the order listed. That cannot be changed. In the Majlis, they are a minority. A party that does not have a majority in the parliament, no matter how unhappy they are, they cannot change that. That is not how the world works.
“[…] Democracy is a system that we learn from the books. We choose it if it is acceptable to us. In the name of democracy, we cannot hold a vote to decide if the Maldives will choose Islam or not. We do not accept that. There are certain things we cannot do. Nevertheless, democracy comprises of opinions of the many. In democracies, votes are held usually to find out the people’s opinions, to find out what they want, and systems they want and in governance. We could vote on issues such as, should the three powers be separated in the Maldives. That is something we can hold votes on. The majority of Maldivians say the three powers must be separated. But when those who advocated for the separation of powers are sentenced, and are unable to bear those sentences, that is not a flaw of democracy. If that is seen as a debility, it is a debility in [their] bodies and minds. It is not a problem with the system. It is sad when they say the people employed by our institutions are not qualified. It is very sad. It is embarrassing. These matters are hidden in those countries. Among things that are hidden by foreign governments – if they are speaking of corruption in the Maldives – it is even worse in other countries. But that is hidden.”
On former President Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition’s lobby efforts for sanctions:
“The first person who should obey the law is the president. Regardless of the high position a person holds, even the president, when he writes a letter to one of you, he signs it off saying, in your service. But he does not remember when he carries out his duties, he does not remember when he becomes the opposition the job he held, or the service the people expect of him, he does not remember now. And the attempt to undermine the Maldives, through absolute lies, lies of issues that do not exist in the Maldives. This makes me question, are they really Maldivian sons? Maldivian sons who love the Maldivian land? Issues that do not exist in the Maldives, major issues that the world is now alarmed by. That the Maldivian government is training people for the most dangerous of wars, Islamic Jihad, or in quotation marks, “jihad.” That it is the government that sends them. It is people who held responsible jobs who are sating this. But these are Maldivians, who will also return and serve Maldivians. So what sort of government will serve the people next? It is such issues that present the biggest troubles to the Maldives now.
“If we accept that there must be characteristic unique to the Maldives in our system of governance, why is it that we, as believers of Islam, refuse to allow temples here? That is what they are advocating for. This may not come as a surprise for you. I think there is a letter from a foreign government, asking if it is possible to build a temple, just for clarification.
“We have to seek aid from those who help us. In accepting aid, we must consider what sort of burdens the Maldives must bear. We must consider, find out, it is not easy for us to act in a manner that affects our sovereignty. We cannot do that. We cannot acquiesce to orders coming from those who disrespect and harass our religion.
“[…] What did we see every Friday previously? Since we are Muslims, we go to the Friday prayers. After that, in the evening protests. For what? Definitely not for milk for babies. Something else. That was a routine. But what was that for? We are saying, come and talk to us, the government, on what they want. We want to proceed in peace. We can allow room for opposition ideologies. We have the courage to listen to those concerns. But lets move forward. Help the people with what the nation wants. Regardless of political colours, pink, yellow or orange, all of these colours must be able to find common ground when it comes to serving the people. The biggest test of finding common ground is the vote on the annual budget, who voted for it? Who didn’t? It is clear from there, who facilitates development and who doesn’t.”
Additional reporting by Xiena Saeed