Democracy Drowning

by: Blaine Skrainka

February 11, 2012

The democratically-elected president of a tiny nation, who has had a giant voice in the climate change debate, has been forced to resign at gunpoint in a coup d’état. Mohamed Nasheed made his resignation under duress as president of the Maldives earlier this week. This is a disturbing setback for both global democracy and the movement to stop climate change.
Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives

As the people across the the Arab world fight for democracy, we continue to realize that dictatorships don’t go easily. In an Op-Ed published by the New York Times, just after his ousting, Mr Nasheed warned:

“Dictatorships don’t always die when the dictator leaves office. The wave of revolutions that toppled autocrats in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen last year was certainly cause for hope. But the people of those countries should be aware that, long after the revolutions, powerful networks of regime loyalists can remain behind and can attempt to strangle their nascent democracies.”

Mohamed Nasheed was the first democratically elected president of the Maldives after 30 years of autocratic rule over the archipelago that scatters across the Indian Ocean. Like another charismatic leader that took office in 2008, Mr Nasheed came in with a wave of optimism and hope, but was faced with an intransigent opposition – the supporters of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The timing of the coup comes at a curious time given that the Arab Awakening has favored democracy over dictatorship. The opponents of the president seem to have actually quite cleverly and cynically used this to their advantage by claiming that this was in fact a popular uprising against a leader who had become an autocrat himself, obsessed with power. International human rights’ organizations disagree and point out that it is in fact the police forces who are acting outside of the law.

The ousting comes coincidentally just weeks after the documentary, The Island President, premiered at Sundance. The film focuses on Mohamed Nasheed’s struggle to bring the threat of climate change to the forefront of international discussion. The Maldives sit just about 5 ft (1.5 m) above sea level, and face disaster if sea levels continue to rise as a result of global warming. Mr Nasheed has been very vocal on the international stage, and back home he even held a cabinet meeting underwater with the help of Scuba equipment, as to say that they will all be underwater soon.

“With Maldives threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming, Nasheed pleged to lead the fight by making his country carbon-neutral within 10 years. For his environmental work, Nasheed received multiple awards, including ‘Champions of the Earth,’ the UN’s most prestigious  environmental award. In 2009, Time magazine named him as a leading leader and visionary in its list of ‘Heroes of the Enviornment’”.
Source: Al Jazeera

Despite his best intentions, President Nasheed’s initiatives were often stifled by the opposition parliament and a corrupt judiciary. Today an arrest warrant looms, but despite this he leads protests demanding new elections. The international community have sent envoys, but do not seem to have any intention to appeal for the reinstatement of the former president.

To put diplomatic pressure on international leaders to support President Nasheed, sign this petition.

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