Politics in Maldives

Maldives' Potemkin Villages: laughable, sad and incredulous at the same time

  • Continues to claim broad support in spite of evidence to the contrary
  • Heavy handed approach to law, crushing dissent
  • International, national criticism over actions, refuses to acknowledge them

Rushdha Rasheed

K. Male' 2017 Oct 29 | Sun 14:43 2,177 report

President Abdullah Yameen has begun his re-election bid amid internal strife and controversy - Murushidh Abdul Hakeem

There is a story about the time when Catherine the Great ruled all of imperial Russia. When Russia annexed Crimea from the Ottoman Empire, Grigori Potemkin was appointed as Governor of the region. Reportedly, Potemkin was the lover of Queen Catherine. Crimea, at that time, was devastated, victim to a lengthy spat between the two Empires. Potemkin embarked on a plan to rebuild Crimea, establish it as a hub.

In 1787, as a new war was about to break out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire, Catherine II with her court and several ambassadors made an unprecedented six-month trip to New Russia. The purpose of this trip was to impress Russia's allies prior to the war. Reportedly, to help accomplish this, Potemkin set up "mobile villages" on the banks of the Dnieper River. As soon as the barge carrying the Empress and ambassadors arrived, Potemkin's men, dressed as peasants, would populate the village. Once the barge left, the village was disassembled, then rebuilt downstream overnight.

The story is heavily debated, given the lack of facts to corroborate the story. Historians agree the story is a fabricated one, designed to mock the close connections between Queen Catherine and Potemkin.

While this is the case, almost every nation in the world engages in such actions. This is more true especially in times of crises, when a nation needs to present the best face possible. This was regularly done in former Soviet Union, Japan, Nazi Germany, North Korea, Venezuela and companies like Enron.

Purpose is to show that the situation is not as bad as it was thought to be. The deception is carried out; usually with disastrous consequences.

Maldives is just like that. His Excellency President Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom needs an army of officers on the island and a court order warranting removal of anti-Government posters and banners prior to his visit to any island. Under protection of special operations officers. Armed with envelopes stuffed with cash. Esteemed Cabinet Ministers and pro-Government MPs praise the President on podiums until they are blue in the face. Development projects of President. How there has been no leader like President Yameen. The kindness of First Lady Fathimath Ibrahim.

Opposition leaders are beaten into submission with all forms of intimidation; be it bribery or legal suits ‘hatched’ on them. This MP is a person who steals identities. This MP broke Police ranks. That MP obstructed official duties.

The local press suffers the same. In a desperate bid to quell any reports of internal strife, the Government continues to impose arbirtary fines, restrict access for anti-Government media by use of force and law. 

Maldives is in the same state internationally. When the statements issued by Commonwealth expressing concern over deteriorating status in the country, Maldives chose to leave. Maldives severed diplomatic ties with Qatar on behest of Saudi paymasters, citing that Qatar support terror groups. The same Qatar was elected, with majority votes, to a chair in UN Human Rights Commission. We got four votes. Foreign Ministry said thank you but we really didn’t contest. 

When European Union Parliament passed to enact measures on the Maldives, pro-Government MPs rushed to drum up some positive PR, with some MPs claiming that the situation was grossly exaggerated. 

When international bodies spoke of human rights, the Maldives said human rights bodies were more focused on reporting rather than actually enforcing human rights.

Pro-Government bots were quite happy to paint a picture of deepening international ties, taking pictures with delegates at 137th IPU assembly. It was only days later, IPU released a strongly worded statement against the Government’s continued heavy-handed treatment of MPs.

And still, in spite of all this, the Government continues to claim no pressure. Claims broad support across the nation. Claims development and prosperity. Claims that all is well. All from podiums and speeches and grand rallies held to amuse and deceive.

It’s laughable. It's sad. And at the same time its unbelievable.

Last updated at: 4 weeks ago | Reviewed by: Miuvaan Mohamed

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