This week marked six months of Dr. Waheed's presidency. As I mentioned in my last article it is worth reviewing this, to see how we have progressed since I reviewed Dr. Waheed's first 100 days in office.
by Dr Hassan Saeed
Any attempt to review Dr Waheed’s half year in the presidency should bear in mind the challenges he faced and the past behaviours of his predecessor that he avoided adopting himself. Only thereafter will we be able to fully assess any material advances his presidency brought.
Dr Waheed was called in to office in a most unusual manner. The day after he took the oath of office, his predecessor claimed that he had resigned at gunpoint.
To anyone who was not aware of the character of the people involved, this chain of events might not sound like a normal governmental transition.
Perhaps understandably, some international organizations were soon demanding answers to why this change had happened with some people in them questioning the legitimacy of his rule. I'm sure everyone will recall attitudes in the international community shifted back and forth over those early weeks.
As a small country, the Maldives relations with its neighbours and with international institutions are vitally important. Clearly as a result of this a significant percentage of Dr. Waheed’s time was spent on addressing the concerns raised. This work has in recent months stabilized with the establishment of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI).
CoNI was not just established to respond to international opinion, but also to demonstrate that the Government could be transparent to its own people. Having set this up in the most professional and impartial manner, one would have hoped that the natural reaction from all sides of the argument would have been to wait for its outcome.
However that was not to be the case. Nasheed and his supporters have been out on the streets creating havoc and committing crimes. Security forces have had to spend a lot of time attending to these activities at a time when the public has been demanding the government does more in addressing crime and punishing criminals in response to recent high profile cases of murder.
Crime was not the only example where the demands of the Maldivian people were not being responded to by at least some of its politicians.
When we look abroad, we have seen government leaders from many different political viewpoints coming to power and immediately saying their overwhelming priority was to fix their economy. Just read the speeches of President Obama in the U.S, Prime Minister Cameron in the U.K and President Hollande in France.
As well as having to address all the issues relating to the change of government itself, the new President inherited a similarly difficult financial situation. A 33% budget deficit, an unsustainable universal free health insurance system that was eating up 1/9 of the total national revenue and subsidy schemes that took nearly every 3 out of 9 Rufiyaa of our revenue – just to name a few examples.
To make matters worse, soon after Dr. Waheed assumed office, Nasheed and his supporters irresponsibly started a tourism boycott campaign to destabilize the fragile economy that they had created even further.
As a result the key economic priority was to stabilize the situation, build confidence with the international community and initially ensure the situation did not get any worse. The government can say that it has achieved its early objectives here.
Having acquitted itself well over responding to international concerns over the governmental change and having tackled immediate economic challenges, the other big challenge for Dr Waheed has been managing a coalition of seven political parties. Many of these parties may themselves end up opposing him in any future presidential election.
Indeed, Dr. Waheed’s coalition is unique in the sense that it has a sitting president and vice president along with two confirmed presidential candidates with the possibility of others. He also chairs a cabinet which does not have a single member from his own party!
Through his actions in government, Dr. Waheed is teaching the country something I advocated during the last election; our country is too small in terms of population to form governments simply along party lines and to exclude people of different political beliefs. I firmly believe that in order to rebuild our nation, restore confidence in our economy and repair our damaged social fabric we must use the best brains in the country. Our purpose being to form a merit-based and even more inclusive national unity government, with a view to tackling the immediate problems we face.
In between those three big challenges, Dr Waheed has upheld the independence and transparency of key institutions that underpin the rule of law and our democracy such as the judiciary, security forces and our media. He has not arrested anyone against the constitution. His own supporters or members of the security forces are yet to padlock a courtroom or arrest a judge or charge an MP for sedition. The fact I have to explain that this is an improvement shows how unstable and uncertain things were before.
Nevertheless by addressing these challenges early, the government is increasingly able to keep much of the focus on the economy and crime – issues that really concern the day to day lives of the people of the Maldives.
After six months, the report card for the government might therefore read 'a lot done, but more to do'.
Note: Dr Hassan Saeed is currently the Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik