Following the Maldives’ combined opposition candidate MDP’s Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s win in the presidential election, the country has been witnessing fast-moving developments. Despite initial skepticism, incumbent President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom conceded defeat and the courts have begun the release of political detainees—all this in less than 24 hours after the provisional results were made official. In an exclusive interview to SNI, Shauna Aminath, currently a combined opposition campaign leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed’s aide, talks to Amitabh P Revi about the big win for democracy and resetting India relations.
Q: Congratulations on the big opposition win. Though you predicted the victory, what are the feelings you’re experiencing.
A: One of hope, and happiness, and joy. A wonderful feeling that our democracy has survived, and that we no longer have to live in fear from a brutal regime.
Q: How crucial was it that there was a combined opposition candidate?
A: I think the coalition played a crucial role in attracting such a big win. Ibu Solih didn’t just win this election; by Maldivian standards it was a landslide. We’ve never had such a big victory in our 10 years of democratic elections.
Q: President Solih has promised to get ex-President Maumoon and political prisoners released on Day 1 in office. That is a priority considering the Criminal Court has released four of them within hours of the result?
A: The President-elect has been very clear right through the campaign that respect for human rights, and the rule of law, is a priority. There are many, many political prisoners in our jails, and we look forward to their imminent freedom. This includes the leaders of two parties in our coalition, former President Maumoon and Sheikh Imran, who are in jail. Also, there are leaders who have been forced into exile after unfair trials and wrongful convictions, namely former President Nasheed and Hon. Gasim Ibrahim. We look forward to their homecoming.
Q: Now that he has conceded and the government says the swearing-in will be on November 17, what is your message for President Yameen?
A: We hope that the President will do everything he can to ensure a smooth transfer of power.
Q: Now, there is no chance of the results being overruled either by the courts or by decree, as many thought it could be?
A: No. If anyone were to try something like that, they would spark a massive public outcry. There would be revolution.
Q: In the campaign, Mr Solih and the opposition agreed on promises when they come to power. What will the government’s immediate priorities be?
A: We must consolidate democracy, as the President-elect mentioned in his victory speech. Many of our institutions, in fact most of them, have been under severe pressure over the past five years. Many have been politicised and corrupted, and have lost the trust of the public. We need to ensure that our institutions work according to the Constitution and the rule of law, and in doing so, help restore public confidence in them.
Q: There has been tension with India. PM Narendra Modi skipped visiting the country, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj hasn’t either. Ex-President Nasheed has been seen as a realist, President-elect Solih has also talked about the country’s relations with India and China. What’s the position on relations with India?
A: The opposition campaign has always stressed the importance of our relationship with India — a relationship that has been wilfully neglected over the past five years. We look forward to a return to Maldives’ traditional foreign policy, as the President-elect stated during the campaign, where we build strong alliances with our neighbours, and with other democracies. Of course, we want good relations with all of our international partners. But the way in which the Maldives has treated India, in particular, in recent years has been, frankly, disgraceful and disrespectful. I’m sure this relationship can now be fully restored.
Q: Will you be getting a position in the next government?
A: That is a decision that rests solely with the President-elect.
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