On November 10, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom would have completed 30 years in office. But South Asia’s longest-serving authoritarian leader, who it seemed had always been president of the Maldives, was voted out of office in the country’s first multi-party election.
Gayoom, 71, present at every South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit since Saarc was formed 23 years ago, will be missing when the regional body holds its 16th summit in the Maldives next year.
In his place, Mohammed “Anni” Nasheed, leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, the new President, will be representing his country. The change has come after a long, drawn out struggle for democracy in a country where Gayoom and the Maldives were synonymous.
Nasheed won 54 per cent in comparison to 46 per cent for the longtime ruler in Tuesday’s runoff, election officials said. Nearly 87 per cent of the nation’s 209,000 registered voters had cast their ballots.
“I want a peaceful transition,” Nasheed, who was 11 years old when Gayoom took power in 1978, told reporters as results came in Wednesday. “I want my supporters to be calm.”
“This is a happier day than ever in the history of the Maldives. The Maldives will change, it will have a peaceful government,” said Nasheed, 41.
He said he had no plans to pursue criminal charges against Gayoom, whom he had accused of corruption, but instead will arrange a pension and security for him.
“A test of our democracy will be how we treat Maumoon. I don’t think we should be going for a witch-hunt and digging up the past,” Nasheed added.
“In the life of a democracy this is a great moment, a great example by Maldivians. I accepted the will of the people," Gayoom said after his defeat.
“My legacy is going to be introducing a modern, liberal form of democracy. That is the greatest legacy anyone can give.”
Gayoom, who “won” 96.4 per cent of the total vote in 1988 as his highest in six terms as president, polled 90.28 per cent as “lowest” in 2003.
With the Maldives embracing democracy, and Pakistan and Nepal holding credible elections, South Asia’s map suddenly looks less authoritarian. Only Bangladesh, where the military rules by proxy, and Myanmar, where the military rules directly, remain holdouts.
Gayoom missed shattering Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew’s 31-year, unbroken stint as prime minister from 1959 to 1990.