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Freedom and democracy in Maldives

The new President of the Maldives Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, tells Padma Rao Sundarji by telephone from Male there’s not even a fundamentalist minority in his country.

india Updated: Nov 21, 2008 01:06 IST

The new President of the Maldives, tells Padma Rao Sundarji by telephone from Male there’s not even a fundamentalist minority in his country.

Your autocratic predecessor, Maumoon Abdel Gayoom remained in office for three decades during which, supporters of your Maldivian Freedom Party were allegedly tortured. Last Wednesday upon assuming office, you ruled out vendetta, ‘jealousy and rancour’. Surely a let down for all those who suffered?

There will be some resentment, not towards myself or the MDP but former President Gayoom himself, especially from those who supported his castles in the air. He seems to be getting away with it, while they lost all the power that they once enjoyed. But since my return from exile in Sri Lanka where we formed the MDP, we have tried to stay on the path of reconciliation. A witch-hunt would only hurt us. Of course, we will not interfere with the judicial processes in the country.

The Maldives has legendarily been one of the most peaceful and tolerant Islamic states in the neighbourhood and indeed, the world. But ever since the terror attack on Gayoom last year, there is talk that Islamist fundamentalist groups may have struck root even here. The end of paradise?

That was not a terrorist attack but personal vendetta. To date, no links have been established with any terror groups. Please consider last month’s presidential election. All parties ran on moderate Islamic platforms and yet, the voter turn-out was almost 90%. Surely this proves that we do not even have a fundamentalist minority in our country?

In 50 years, the rising seas may wipe out many of the 1192 Maldivian islands. You intend to acquire land in either Sri Lanka, India or Australia to relocate your 300,000 citizens and save them from becoming ‘climate refugees’. But that’s controversial and impractical…

Any help is welcome. Actually, what I was thinking of was to set up a ‘sovereign fund’ and to replenish it with an endowment from tourist arrivals: a sort of insurance policy against future ‘man-made’ natural disasters. For now, we want to play a more constructive role against green house gas emissions.

Yes, but even the earnings from tourism are not evenly distributed among your population. 40% still live below the poverty line. Drug abuse and corruption are widespread. Aren’t those the most pressing problems today?

But of course. Providing adequate and affordable housing, health insurance, linking the remotest atolls through a transport system, making goods and services affordable and blocking entry points for drugs are right on top of my list.

Your relations with India have always been excellent. But India is concerned about your growing closeness to China…

Maldives has always been an impartial country since independence. But: our fraternal ties with democracies will always remain stronger.

(The author is South Asia bureau chief for Der Spiegel. An abbreviated German version of this interview is in the latest issue of the news magazine).

First Published: Nov 21, 2008 01:04 IST