We do not pay much attention to events happening in countries like Maldives. It is so far away and we really do not have much to do with it! However, I find an instructive lesson to be learnt from recent political crisis that has engulfed this small island nation with a population that is less than half of ours. I do not know how many of us have been following the developments there. But here is what happened in a nutshell.
The Maldives, a Muslim nation was long ruled by hereditary sultans. However, it became a republic in 1968, which means that the hereditary sultanate was abolished. After a coup in 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became the president and as head of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge (nationalist) Party, he ruled for 30 years. In 2008, the Maldivian Democratic Party defeated President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Mohammed Nasheed was elected president for a five-year term. However, he resigned from office on February 7, 2012 before the completion of his term. He has alleged that he was forced to resign at gunpoint by the military and that it was a coup d’état. Mohammed Waheed, his vice president who succeeded him immediately after as provided for in the Maldivian Constitution argued that President Nasheed resigned on his own and was not forced out of office. There have been lots of political unrest, protests and demonstrations thereafter.
In the aftermath of his alleged ouster, President Nasheed had called for Indian military intervention. India deemed it an internal affair of Maldives and did not intervene. However, its diplomats in Male were mediating the crisis. It also sent a special envoy. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is the watchdog of democracy for the 54-member country commonwealth, also sent a mission since Maldives is a member. Similarly, the United States also sent its envoy.
All of them asked President Nasheed and his party to join a unity government (consisting of different political parties) and to hold early elections. None of them addressed the issue of whether President Nasheed resigned voluntarily or was forced out in a coup. This was left for the Maldivians to decide through an investigation commission set up. The commission includes members from foreign countries.
What I found revealing in this political crisis is the call for foreign countries and agencies to intervene! It points to an absence of any non-partisan national institution that would mediate the political conflict. The Majlis is a unicameral legislature. It is party to the conflict today. The judiciary is not called for because the very cause for the crisis is the removal of a senior judge by President Nasheed. Even if there is any national institution to mediate this conflict, it suggests total lack of confidence in such an institution. Otherwise, why would the main actors in this crisis call for foreign intervention?
If such a political crisis at all occurs in Bhutan, we should be in a position to stabilize the crisis and mediate the conflict ourselves without having to call for any foreign power to intervene. This is the most instructive lesson I learn from the current political crisis in Maldives.
By political crisis, I do not necessarily refer to a coup d’état but could be of any nature that we may or may not foresee. Crises can always happen. I am not talking about routine change of governments which happens through elections. During those times, we will have an interim government to look after the affairs of the country. The National Council will provide continuity to the legislative body. What I am talking about is possible political crises, if and when they happen. In such crises, the existence and role of non-partisan and apolitical institutions are crucial to address them without having to call on external intervention and mediation.
Amongst others, this is one of the most important roles for the monarchy in our country in the twenty first century. It is a national institution that is above politics. Since it is non-partisan, it is well-positioned to arbitrate political conflicts and mediate crises in our national interest.
By this, I do not suggest the involvement of the monarchy in everyday political scuffles or disputes. In fact, His Majesty the King has always encouraged the development and nurturing of a democratic space for different institutions and players to engage in dialogues and resolve our differences. We are learning to do that. What I suggest is the unquestionable significance of this non-partisan and apolitical institution of the monarchy to play its part to protect our sovereignty and freedom if and when grave crises engulf our kingdom. In my view, this is a major argument in defense of constitutional monarchy in the modern era.
Maldives is located at strategic shipping sea lanes in the Indian Ocean as much as we are located at strategic geography in the Himalayas. Both countries are small but our geostrategic locations are of interest to others particularly to India and China. Therefore, we cannot remain complacent in our thoughts that foreign powers would remain indifferent if political crises such as the one in Maldives were to occur here. Hence it is of utmost importance for us to strengthen our national institutions such as the monarchy that would best prepare us to handle any such crisis!
(The writer is the Deputy-Chairperson of the National Council representing Trashigang Dzongkhag. )