From dissident to island President

  • AFP, Male
  • |
  • Updated: Feb 08, 2012 00:26 IST

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, was a former political prisoner who rose from grassroots activism and journalism.

Nasheed, 44, who was educated in Sri Lanka and Britain, came to power after building a pro-democracy movement with local and foreign support in opposition to the 30-year autocratic rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, ruled the holiday paradise unchallenged for three decades between 1978 and 2008 and repeatedly threw Nasheed in jail over a period of six years.

Nasheed recounted once in a television interview that he spent 18 months in solitary confinement as his jailors tried to get him to confess to seeking to "overthrow" the state.

The media-savvy father of two daughters and holder of a degree in maritime engineering was at one point an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience.

He formed his Maldivian Democratic Party in exile but then returned home to a hero's welcome, sweeping 54% of the vote in the 2008 elections whose results brought people into the streets dancing and cheering.

Nasheed said after the election that he had "forgiven my jailors, the torturers" and that he wanted Gayoom "to grow old here" in the Maldives, saying it was "a test of our democracy how we treat" the former dictator.

The President, who was forced out on Tuesday by a police mutiny and three weeks of street protests by the opposition, used his mandate to build a reputation internationally as a campaigner against climate change.

In 2009, Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting in an effort to press the world to cap carbon emissions that cause global warming, which will lead to rising sea levels threatening countries like the Maldives.


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