Our natural partners are countries like India, says Maldivian leader Mohamed Nasheed

Our natural partners are countries like India, says Maldivian leader Mohamed Nasheed

Colombo, September 25: The President of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed has said that democracies like India are the Maldives’  “natural partners”.

In an interview to Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu after the Maldivian Presidential election in which the Joint Opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih defeated the  incumbent Abdulla Yameen, Nasheed said: “ If countries don’t have transparent bidding and are unwilling to engage with democratic processes, we cannot engage [with them]. Our natural partners are countries like India. We have the same films, songs, books and food.”

He was contrasting India with China without naming the latter, when asked about the fate of Chinese projects which he had alleged, would push the Maldives into a debt trap.

“I can’t speak for the coalition, but my own views remain the same. None of the projects made business sense. You cannot foist infeasible projects on developing countries. We all love a bridge, but please don’t push it on us.  If countries don’t have transparent bidding and are unwilling to engage with democratic processes, we cannot engage [with them].”

Excerpts from the interview:

Two days ago, you told the media that President Abdulla Yameen will lose but hold on to power, and asked the international community to reject the outcome of a “rigged election”. Today, Mr. Yameen has conceded defeat and assured a smooth transition. Was your assessment unfair, or did something change since?

When history is on the march, as I told you yesterday, it is very difficult for us mortals to change it. Yameen’s speech today [Monday] conceding defeat was full of bitterness — as if to suggest: “People can’t reject me; I have done all this, and people are ungrateful.” There was no magnanimity. Anyway, I commend him for having conceded. I think it was the outcome of growing scrutiny by international media, the work of local activists, NGOs, pressure from diplomats and all of that.

Will the ideologically and politically very diverse constituents of the joint Opposition coalition that challenged Mr. Yameen, hold together after the victory?

The MDP [Maldivian Democratic Party] decided on Honorable Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as the candidate because he is the man to bring different ideas together. He is highly respected by the rank and file of our parties and the leadership. Our parties, our national council members, agree that in him we have a candidate who will have a grip on the situation and will stabilize Maldives’ politics. The joint Opposition’s manifesto will be followed to the letter.

The election outcome might be favorable to you, but your criminal conviction remains. Can you return home?

We all want our civil liberties back. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UN Human Rights Council and even the Maldives Supreme Court have ruled in my favor.

However, we have to resolve this through proper channels and the system. We will follow the appropriate process — it cannot be based on an individual’s decision. Yes, I would like to go home. I would like to see my dear friend being sworn in. I would like to be in Male for the inauguration, and I will appeal to President Yameen for “prison leave” so I can go.

On multiple occasions you have voiced concern about India lacking a proactive strategy to engage with the Maldives. How do you think India-Maldives relations will play out now?

We have now come to an understanding that Indian diplomats and officials are very smart. We have learnt a fair bit from them. They too understand that we are smart and that we can do business together.

If you look at what has happened in countries like Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, you realize that countries with a single-party culture cannot appreciate the complexities of multi-party elections and multi-party democracy. Had money spoken in the Maldives, and by that I mean money as bribery or through mega infrastructure projects, we would have had a very different election outcome. I want to tell the people of South Asia that please understand that, yes, people do need money, but money alone can’t talk.

You have been vocal in your criticism of Chinese projects in the Maldives, and have often accused China of creating a “debt trap”.  Many projects initiated with Chinese assistance are under way. How will the new government deal with them?

I can’t speak for the coalition, but my own views remain the same. None of the projects made business sense. You cannot foist infeasible projects on developing countries. We all love a bridge, but please don’t push it on us. If countries don’t have transparent bidding and are unwilling to engage with democratic processes, we cannot engage [with them]. Our natural partners are countries like India. We have the same films, songs, books and food.