From prison to presidential palace

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"Lord Michael Bates," the e-mail began.

I was pretty sure at that point I had received it in error. I read on:

Sir,

You are cordially invited to the ceremony of His Excellency President Mohamed Nasheed taking the oath of office, on the 11th of Nov. 2008, at 10:00 am at Dharubaaruge, Male, Maldives.

The Secretariat
Office of the President Elect
Hilaaleege,
Male'
Rep. of Maldives.

I was even more certain that the message had been misdirected, and even if it hadn't, making travel arrangements to an island nation halfway around the world on such short notice would be expensive.

But as it happens, I know a Lord Michael Bates, although he had yet to be ennobled when I met him in June 2007. This last summer, he was "raised to the peerage as Baron Bates, of Langbaurgh in the County of North Yorkshire." In addition to his duties at Westminster, he is deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and project director of Campaign North, the effort to rebuild the Conservative Party in the north of England, where Labour has long been dominant.

So I forwarded the message to Lord Michael, and from his reply I learned the inspiring story behind the mysterious message.

The Republic of the Maldives had been under authoritarian rule since its inception in 1968. One man had been president since 1978, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He was a typical kleptocrat, crushing opposition, and using his power for his personal enrichment.

Mohamed Nasheed, 41, known by the nickname Anni, had been imprisoned and tortured several times for political dissent over the course of a dozen years, before going into exile in 2003. He founded the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and returned to his homeland in 2005 to register the party. Later that year, he was once again arrested and imprisoned.

Growing dissent in the Maldives and external pressure led to the first free elections in the Maldives this year. From this Wikipedia article, it appears that the Internet, mobile phones, and text messaging all played a role in allowing dissenters to organize and disseminate information. While the official media were pretending the protests weren't happening, the new media was getting the word out. (You can read about the history of political censorship in the Maldives on the IFEX website.)

In the first round of the election, Anni finished in second place to the 30-year incumbent dictator Gayoom. In the runoff, Anni secured the support of all the other opposition candidates and won with 54 percent of the vote, making him the first democratically elected president of the Maldives.

The Conservative Party in the UK has been supportive of the MDP since its inception. Anni is said to be a good friend of William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary and former Tory leader.

One of Anni's campaign promises is to turn his predecessor's lavish presidential palace into the nation's first university.

Congratulations to President Anni and to the people of the Maldives. I only wish, on this chilly, rainy Tuesday (my 45th birthday and the Maldives' 40th), that I could be in sunny, tropical Malé to celebrate with you.

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2 Comments

Mike Mansur said:

What an interesting coincidence and story. It’s amazing how “small” the world has become due to technology. Thanks for sharing.

Jim Reisert said:

He's just trying to get money to pay for hydrolics to pump his island chain well above water:

http://edition.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/asiapcf/11/11/maldives.president/

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 11, 2008 10:40 PM.

A recap of the National Preservation Conference was the previous entry in this blog.

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