By Farooq Mohamed Hassan*
Like in successful businesses, political processes and reform movements also require innovation to be successful. When I say innovation, I mean more than just developing new ideas; for instance, the ability to recognize changes as a catalyst to anticipate and improve the ways in which the process or the movement needs to evolve in order to succeed in a changing environment. The political reform movement led by the former Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) succeeded because of this element of innovation in their campaign.
Stepping back a bit further, the end of the cold war and the resulting changes in geopolitical interests of the United States and its allies, resulted in dictators falling out of favor with the freedom loving nations of the world. As a result, Dictators became an endangered species – with no place to hide, and no one to protect them.
Anni saw this as an opportunity and a challenge. Initially as a writer, and later as a political activist, Anni demonstrated his skills and his ability to recognize innovation as catalyst for change in the rapidly changing environment, both abroad and at home.
The struggle for democracy and fundamental rights led by Anni in Maldives was an uphill battle. It was a battle that was fought in two fronts; internationally and locally. The reform movement which began in early 1990's, was met with fierce resistance from the dictator. Anni and many of his supporters were jailed, tried and banished. They were accused, abused and at times, tortured. Some of them have long left us. They were the ones that were not so fortunate to live to taste the sweetness of their noble struggle. However, they will be fondly remembered for generations to come. And they will be honored for the sacrifices they have made for the freedom of generations to come.
In the entire history of this struggle for democracy, freedom and fundamental rights, the past four to five years have been the most turbulent. It began with the brutal killing of Evan Naseem who was serving his prison term in Maafushi jail, and it has culminated in the overthrowing of the dictator - Maumoon and his regime from power, in the first ever multi-party election held in the country's entire history, on October 28, 2008.
Many just wonder as to how the Maldivians succeeded in overthrowing a dictator who has been in power for thirty long years, in such a short time. Yes! How did we do this? I would say, by being innovative. First, as Anni used to say, the word 'Golhaa Boa' was a scientific innovation to cut dictator Maumoon to size. Second, by empowering the people. This was also achieved by being innovative – by encouraging the people to 'get rid of their fear' of being punished by the regime, by 'each getting strength from the other' – in other words, through 'collective strength'. And third, by taking on to the street – to make the voice of dissent be heard and respected.
With pressure from the reform movement, the stagnant Special Majlis began more active, with Mr. Gasim Ibrahim elected to the Chair. With the new constitution passed and ratified, with independent commissions set up, the Dictators control over the affairs of the state began to crumble. In a primary held to decide MDP's presidential candidate, Anni emerged as the victor. This was followed by several so called 'heavy weights' resigning the party. For many party activists, it seemed all was lost. Mr. Zaki stepped in and salvaged the Party as he did following the crisis MDP fell into following the November 10 incidence of 2006. The rest is history.
No sooner had Anni submitted his candidacy for the presidency, he was accused of lacking leadership quality, both from outside and within the party supporters. Once again it was Anni's ability to innovate for change that united the opposition against the Dictator. And as events unfolded, it proved that there was none better than Anni to lead the reform movement.
Many of you would recall that when on Siyaasath Program, Maumoon was asked whether he saw lack of credible leaders in the country as his failure, he denied it out right. Leaving Maumoon's denial for the readers to judge, the undeniable truth is that, a shortage of capable and credible leaders of change persists because change has never been easy. According to Niccolo Machiavelli, the most difficult to carryout, the most doubtful of success, and the most dangerous to handle, is to initiate a new order of things. This is because the reform has enemies in all those who profit from the old order and only lukewarm defenders by all those who could profit by the new order. According to Machiavelli, this lukewarmness arises from the incredulity of mankind who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience with it.
Indeed! How very true. More than 500 years ago, Machiavelli, has very accurately described one of the innate natures of mankind. In retrospect, the truth of this statement is quite vivid in the changing political scenarios in our country. Today, when success seems not only within reach, but has actually been achieved, even those so called 'heavy weights', who left MDP after blaming its leadership, or were reluctant to work with Anni , are slowly coming back and joining the party. Whatever their reasons for joining MDP may be, the speed with which the changes are taking place now in Maldives, in particular, during the last few days, has underscored the essential role innovation has played in driving the very successful, yet, peaceful and historic change in Maldives.
[*Faarooq Mohamed Hassan is a former shadow cabinet member of MDP and is also the Deputy Director General of the Environment Research Center.]