"The reform agenda is mine," President Gayoom pronounced to his rivals on TVM's Riyasee Suvaalu program. Technically speaking, if he was merely referring to the "Reform Agenda" he announced on 9 June 2004, he would be right. But if he was referring to the whole reform movement that is in motion since 2003, that's a different story altogether.
Probably even Gayoom himself wouldn't go so far as to claim the entire reform movement as his own. Had that been the case ironically there would have been no need to announce the 'Reform Agenda' in 2004, as the agenda would then have started and progressed incrementally since 1978. So obviously there were others besides him who triggered the movement that culminated in the ratification of the Constitution on August 7. Who were they and what were their roles?
First wave of reform
With fresh faces elected to the Majlis in 1989, including Dr. Waheed, Gogo Latheef and Modi, new ideas took the Majlis by storm. Press freedom reached new heights simultaneously with the launching of three political magazines. The new found freedom was short lived, however. With the help of the infamous Bimbi Force, the movement was crushed and reformist MPs were evicted from the Majlis.
Mohamed Shafeeg (Editor) and Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) of 'Sangu' were charged and sentenced. So were the writers of Hukuru: Mohamed Saeed Moosa Wajdee, Mohamed Jaleel, Ahmed Waheed Ali, and Ahmed Fayaz Hassan.
The second wave of reform started in the late 90s during the debates on Vision 2020. These debates marked a watershed in the reform process because it was the first time participants could openly criticize government policies in an official setting. This wave reached its climax in 2001 when a group of 43 intellectuals and professionals submitted a proposal for registering a political party. The group included names like Rado Zahir, Mujthaba, Qasim, Anni, Suood, Hathifushi Shakir, Hassan Afeef, Naushad Waheed, Alia Ali Abdulla, Ilyas Hussein, Maizan Hassan Maniku, Ahmed Muiz, Husna Razee, Abdullah Zameer, Zahiya Zareer, Mahmood Razi and Ali Faiz among others. The movement reached a dead end when the government on the advice of Attorney General Munavvar decided that the Constitution was not compatible with political parties.
Some significant events of the period included:
- The arrest and sentencing of Male MP Mohammed Nasheed on dubious charges;
- The launching of the internet magazine Sandhaanu and the ultimate arrest of Nazaki Zaki and Ibrahim Lutfee who ran the magazine.
Without any doubt the third and current wave of reform was heralded by the death of Evan Naseem in Maafushi prison in September 2003 and the shootings that followed. The massive outcry and the spontaneous demonstrations on the streets of Male changed the Maldives forever. Unlike its predecessors, the third wave of reform could not be stopped because of reasons including the following:
- The role of Mohammed Nasheed (Anni)'s charismatic leadership and unwavering commitment in mobilizing the young generation as agents of change;
- Successful formation of a political party, MDP, by a group of reformists spearheaded by Anni and Gogo Latheef;
- The effectiveness of Ahmed Shafeeq (Sappe)'s Dhivehi-Observer in communicating anti Gayoom messages to a broad Maldivian audience, thereby denting his media created image;
- Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, Latheef and Anni's success in bringing the reform movement to the attention of the international community, and the resulting pressure from that quarter;
- President Gayoom's launching of the 9th June Reform Agenda, which put pressure on the government to stick to its timeline;
- The New Maldives movement, which brought reforms from within the government including Hassan Saeed's landmark ruling on political parties and accession to major international human rights conventions;
- Male Member Ibrahim Ismail's role in incorporating principles of liberal democracy into the draft Constitution;
- The effectiveness of opposition MPs including Afeef, Ibra, Reeko Moosa, Monaza Naeem, Suood, Ali Waheed, Sanco Shareef and others in articulating reforms on the Majlis floor;
- Qasim Ibrahim's leadership in steering the work of the Special Majlis to a fruitful conclusion;
- The willingness of the DRP majority in the Majlis to pass the reforms;
- Information Minister Nasheed's role in introducing a degree of media freedom;
- And above all, the resolve of ordinary Maldivians who within just five short years have become the most politically mature people in South Asia.
Author's note: In any list of honors, certain names inadvertently get left out. So let me apologize to them in advance. Let me also acknowledge the large number of people who wrote personal letters to President Gayoom urging him to launch reforms long before people poured out onto the streets and set the juggernaut rolling, letters that would haunt him as constant reminders of what could have been.