Since 2008 our country has become even more divided. Politics in the Maldives seems to be pretty polarized with citizens and voters seeing things in very black and white terms - Politician A is altogether good whilst Politician B is altogether bad.
by Dr Hassan Saeed
Responsible government, and for that matter responsible opposition, should not seek to divide the country but try to gain the broadest support possible by building consensus.
But how do voters make up their minds about how they are going to vote? Do they study the manifestos or policy platforms of respective candidates and parties and then weighing all the options make their minds up in a calm and collected fashion? Are they offered distinct and competing visions of the road down which the Maldives might travel by political parties? How much genuine choice and difference is there in the offer from our politicians and political parties?
In 2008 it was relatively easy. The election was really only about whether voters wanted change or continuity. In 2013 political parties will have the opportunity to come of age and spell out to the voters what they really stand for and why their ideas and policies can take the country forward. At present many voters will cast their vote because of
• Habit - “I’ve always voted this way”,
• Family – ‘my family is..’
• Island loyalty- “this is an X political party island”
• Personal interest-“what are you going to do for me personally?”
• Personality-“I like X”
And the last one is the most dangerous because it can lead to a crude populism where big personalities attempt to outbid each other with unkeepable promises and voters compile ever more unachievable and unrealistic shopping lists. That’s how we end up in the financial mess that we are in now with a budget deficit of over US$300 million this year.
So we need political parties with clear political platforms. But before this we need to understand where those policies come from. What are the values that underpin them?
Where do the respective political parties and politicians stand on the big issues such as the relationship between politics and Islam or the role of government and private enterprise in the lives of our citizens?
Because the values of a party will determine its policies which have a real and direct impact on the lives of its citizens.
Take health care in the Maldives. The previous government based its health care policy value on the primacy of the market – that market forces would impose a regulation of its own. They believed that ‘competition’ would improve hospitals which is not a view shared by many others who favour a system where the provision of healthcare is the direct responsibility of government.
But in the provision of healthcare, the consequence of this is that over 70% of the government budget now goes to the private sector. So that money that might be spent on improving services at the IGMH goes to the owners of a few private clinics and pharmacies.
But this belief in the market was never spelt out clearly – in a way that people could think about and in turn decide if they agreed with.
And it is this clarity of values that is perhaps what is missing in Maldives politics. At present most political parties define themselves by their leaders and some would find it difficult to articulate their distinctive visions for the nation. Without this there is a real danger that in government, we swap one clique for another with little discernible difference seen by ordinary citizens.
What the voter wants to know is what the relevant party stands for – what drives their policies. And this has to be more than the PR campaigns of any one leader. It needs to be a set of values shared, owned and embedded across the party. It needs political parties and leaders who see beyond next election. It needs parties and leaders with visions for the nation.
Note: Dr Hassan Saeed is currently the Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik