"Mohammed Nasheed, known locally as Anni, defeated the dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to become the Islands' first democratically elected president for 30 years." (Sunday Island, Colombo, November 2, 2008). Does this opening sentence from a newspaper article on the Maldives presidential election sum up how outsiders see President Gayoom's 30-year legacy?
Was this really Maldives' first democratic election? Surprisingly, President Gayoom's own pronouncements indicate that he himself believed there was no democracy in the Maldives till this election. For example, when an Al Jazeera journalist asked him last month why it took him so long to introduce democracy he replied, "… you must...er...recognize the fact that at that time we were a very poor under developed country. We didn't have even food for our people. And we didn't have any sort of education. And our health were...services were very very low indeed. So people were not ready for any modern form of democracy. I have been able to achieve great progress both socially and economically during the past thirty years. So now we are ready, we are ready for democratic reform so that's why four years ago I introduced this new agenda of reform."
So in Gayoom's words Maldivians were not ready for democracy before 2004. But were they ready for lack of democracy? Was Naifaru Dhohokko ready for being arrested for simply wishing he wanted to see another day? Was Gogo Latheef ready to be jailed for criticizing the government in the Majlis? Were Mohamed Saeed Moosa Wajdee and Ahmed Fayaz Hassan ready for being sentenced for writing critical articles?
During Gayoom's tenure, the Maldives developed into a premier tourist destination. Per-capita GDP rose from less than $300 to over $4000 dollars. The question is, how successful was the government in bringing the benefits of economic development to the common man?
When Gayoom came to power there were 4 government schools in Male. In the islands only one Atoll Education Center was in operation and another was under construction. When he leaves office, there are more than 300 schools. However there are concerns about lack of quality and discipline.
When Gayoom took office in 1978, Maldives was one of the most law abiding and crime free countries in the world. He leaves a society in which drugs and crime are rampant.
Finally how effective and efficient is the government administration that Gayoom nurtured for 30 years and handed over to Nasheed?