The Maldives – Reform Deferred?
Ahmed Shaheed & Jonathan Upton,
founding member of the pro-democracy
New Maldives faction,

Dr. Ahmed Shaheed is formerly the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Maldives from 2005-2007. Dr Shaheed had been a member of the government since 1995 and was also a founding member of the pro-democracy one of the strongest voices for change and co-author of the Roadmap to Democracy. Frustrated at Government resistance to change, Dr. Shaheed resigned from office in August 2007. He has since become spokesman for the Opposition Alliance, a coalition of opposition groups promoting a change of government. Dr. Shaheed is a co-founder of the Open Society Association, an NGO that seeks to promote civic society in the Maldives. Formerly a teacher of Political Sciences, Shaheed has made a number of academic presentations on regional co-operation, national security, terrorism, and political developments in the Maldives.
Jonathan Upton is Managing Director of a UK consultancy specializing in political, social and cause related marketing, Jonathan was a senior UK Labour Party official during both the 1997 and 2001 general elections with responsibility for ensuring the overall effectiveness of the Party's organization at both headquarter and regional level. Since setting up TCC in 2001, he has worked with numerous membership organizations to improve the effectiveness of their campaigns and to enhance capacity building work with community leaders both within the UK and also in emergent democracies. He has collaborated with Dr Shaheed for a number of years on developing new approaches in the latter field, with a particular reference to Islam and democracy.
ABSTRACT - The Maldives is a small but strategically significant Islamic nation. At the
height of its recently instituted democratic reform programme, the country was seen as a model
for democratization of other Muslim countries. Optimism flowed from the publication of the
Government’s ‘Roadmap for Reform’, the ascendance of reformists within government, the
accession to human rights treaties and the tabling of a modern penal code which combined sharia
principles with international legal norms. The country seemed set to become a fusion of
moderate Islamic and democratic ideals.
However, tensions between tradition and modernity have not been resolved and there has been a rise in conservative and even fundamentalist values, including the only terrorist attack in the history of the country. The Government response of emergency rule, mass detention of political opponents, and a slowdown of the reform agenda, has exacerbated the problem. Some are questioning the compatibility of democratic values and Islam.
The lines in this duel between tradition and modernity are not clearly drawn. Except for the religious conservative Adalat Party, none of the other parties have any clear or coherent ideology or program. The emerging political dividing line is simply support or opposition to the continuation of the current regime. Extremist views benefit from this apparent lack of choice.
A 2004 NDI study identified numerous challenges that must be addressed for the Maldives to make a transition to pluralistic democracy. Although political parties have been allowed, other recommendations have been largely ignored. It is evident that the Maldives cannot progress towards a smooth and sustainable democratic transition without addressing those challenges.
If democracy is to flourish, the November presidential elections must be free and fair. Political parties must develop political agendas based on distinctive values. The situation requires a robust democratic arena that will enable consensus and coalition-building to take place. This nascent democracy will need a broad-based government to guide it through its infant steps. International pressure has played a crucial role in pushing a closed society to open up political space. That pressure must be sustained. But hitherto underdeveloped pro-democracy forces must also be encouraged to forge a viable indigenous democratic fabric with a uniquely Islamic hue. There is still a chance that religious conservatives and secular liberals will be able to achieve a sustainable balance in a Muslim society. But the political future is delicately poised and by no means certain.


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