The February 5th elections for local councils are the very first such elections in the Maldives. This is one more milestone in the rapid transition to a democratic system in the country. What is quite astounding is the rapid speed of change. Within the last 30 months Maldives has seen more change in its political system than in the past 30 years.
One should wonder seriously whether we could absorb these changes positively. Whether they will cumulatively contribute to a more peaceful and prosperous society for us. My concerns arise from the realization that the greatest impact of these changes have so far been on the national budget. The wage bill has inflated out of control with the addition of thousands of high paying elected or appointed officials in parliament, independent institutions, political appointees and now over 1000 elected officials in the local councils. This is certainly not helping to reduce the national deficit.
I believe that it was a mistake for the parliament to decide that all local council members should be full time paid officials. Just a few days ago we were visited by two state legislators from the State of Oregon in the United States. We were told that both of them had full time jobs, one as a teacher the other as an environmentalist and that their elected post was a part time job. Wonder why we cannot do the same. We Maldivians probably have more elected representatives per capita than any other country in the world. On average every 300 people have an elected representative. In some islands a population of 300 people have 5 elected representatives. Sometimes, one wonders where we get these brilliant ideas.
The ruling MDP (excluding the Coalition) has won Male the capital city and the only other city in the country. But only 20 percent of the Male eligible voters have exercised their constitutional right. Why was it so low. Perhaps people didn’t understand the role of a city council, or perhaps Male citizens are too tired of elections and politics in general. I believe its a combination of both factors.
MDP launched a carefully crafted election campaign and its leader, the President visited over 100 islands to garner support for MDP and yet it lost most of the council seats in the atolls and islands to the opposition parties. This is not a good omen for the MDP and its worse for the people of those communities. The question is wether party politics will get in the way of implementing government’s policies and programmes in those communities. I sincerely hope that it will not be the case.
After two an a half years into the term of this government, finally elections are over and we can focus on development itself. Or can we? Some prospective candidates have already started their campaign for the next Presidential election in 2013.
Is democracy all about elections. I don’t think so. Then what is happening here? Are we on the right track? Perhaps only time will tell.