Fauziah Ibrahim: Thank you very much for speaking with us. Let’s start with the events on February 7th when President Nasheed resigned. He says that it was under duress. Was it a coup?
President Waheed: It wasn’t a coup. It has been portrayed in the Western media as a coup d’etat. But the President resigned voluntarily. You have pictures of him having a Cabinet meeting following which he writes his own letter of resignation. And in front of the camera, he announced he was resigning with his Cabinet standing behind him. He could have indicated even indirectly if he was under duress. He didn’t. It took 24 hours before he changed his mind. I am convinced that he resigned voluntarily.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Does it disturb you though that your presidency is being alleged as illegitimate?
President Waheed: Of course these are unfair accusations. We were totally unprepared. It took us by surprise. And therefore, we could not get our message across to the rest of the world, to tell them about our understanding, to tell what actually happened. He had the machinery already in place because all the top positions and everything were appointed by him from his party only. And therefore they all shifted with him to his house and began the media campaign to show to the rest of the world it was a coup d’etat. It wasn’t a coup d’etat. Do you think if it was a coup d’etat do you think he would be out here talking to you and everybody else? You know there’s no restriction on his freedom and he is moving around. We have a democracy and we are respecting it. We welcome an independent investigation to find out exactly what happened. We will not be in the way of finding out the truth.
Fauziah Ibrahim: We have seen video footage of security forces out on the streets; we have seen people demanding for the resignation of the then President Nasheed. Mainly these people have been the security forces. That’s what we are seeing from the video. Also, we have video footage of your current defense minister entering the barracks and then coming out of the barracks demanding the President’s resignation. We see him also in the President’s office just before and just after the resignation. Now, at that point he was just a civilian. Why was a civilian given so much privilege access?
President Waheed: I have no idea because I was not part of what happened that day.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Did you know this was going to happen?
President Waheed: No, absolutely not.
Fauziah Ibrahim: But you met with opposition parties before this happened.
President Waheed: The opposition call for his resignation has been going on for a very long time. For almost three weeks we had serial demonstrations every night in Male, calling for the President’s resignation for various reasons. And when this thing happened, nobody expected this to happen. My understanding of it was that the president was issuing unlawful orders to the security forces and at some point, they decided that enough was enough and they were not going to listen to him. And that’s when he decided that he was going to submit his resignation. But he changed his mind afterwards.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Why do you think he changed his mind? Why do you think he is now saying it was a coup?
President Waheed: I think he just lost it. He lost it and he realised what a blunder he had made. Maybe this was a trick he was playing on the people; I don’t know. But he resigned and he resigned voluntarily and in front of the camera. He could have said under the circumstances, I am being forced to resign, but he didn’t. He didn’t give any indication, any clue. He could have called me and told me “Waheed, I am being forced to resign.” He didn’t tell me.
Fauziah Ibrahim: What would you have done?
President Waheed: I would not have taken the oath of office if he had said that. He should have called me, he didn’t.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Why do you think he didn’t call you, is because he didn’t trust you?
President Waheed: We haven’t been talking for a while except in the….
Fauziah Ibrahim: Is it because he thought you were not part of his plans in the Maldives?
President Waheed: We all fought for democracy in the country. It was not a reversal. I was part of the democracy movement as well.
Fauziah Ibrahim: It does seem like a reversal though now that you have appointed this particular civilian, a retired colonel as the defense minister, you have appointed Mohamed Jameel as Home Minister both of whom are known as supporters of ex-President Gayoom. You have also appointed Dunya Maumoon who is Gayoom’s daughter as the state minister of foreign affairs. Are we about to see Maldives slide back into dictatorship here?
President Waheed: I have also appointed to the Cabinet people from seven other parties. I am trying to form a national unity government in which I want everyone to participate.
Fauziah Ibrahim: But everyone is looking at the security forces and they are saying the people who head this security forces are Gayoom’s supporters.
President Waheed: That is not true. The Home Minister is not from Gayoom’s party. In fact, the current Home Minister was in Nasheed’s government. President Nasheed came to power in a coalition. He was unable to win by himself. We brought in other parties and we won the election. But soon after the elections, he decided to go back on his words. And get everybody out of the government. The Home Minister was one of them and what we saw progressively after that was a gradual reversal of democracy. In the sense, that the head of state began doing things that were unconstitutional like locking up the supreme court, arbitrarily arresting political leaders and detaining them without charge, and finally we have this very bizarre situation where the president orders the military to arrest a serving judge.
Fauziah Ibrahim: During these events, you served as Vice President. Did you object to his actions?
President Waheed: Yes, I objected and advised the President that this was not the way to go about it.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Did he take your advice?
President Waheed:: He does not take anyone’s advice. He is not somebody who takes people’s advice.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Why didn’t you as Vice President then resign?
President Waheed: I spoke out; I said this is not the way to do things. I don’t particularly like these people or the judge, I don’t know him. This is not the way to go about it. There are constitutional ways in which these things have to be done.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Do you trust the judiciary in the Maldives?
President Waheed: I trust the judiciary but it has its problems.
Fauziah Ibrahim: What sort of problems?
President Waheed: There are problems in the sense that it has to be strengthened
Fauziah Ibrahim: In what way?
President Waheed: They have to have better training in the use of modern evidence. I would like to see the judiciary become more independent; that they have more resources.
Fauziah Ibrahim: It has been said that the judiciary in the Maldives cannot be trusted and it is corrupt. It supports the Gayoom regime?
President Waheed: No, no, no. This is not rue. The Supreme Court was appointed by the President himself.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Do you not think the specter of Gayoom looms large over Maldives and this is why you have this political turmoil now?
President Waheed: Not entirely. Of course Gayoom is a factor, because he got 40 percent of the votes in the last election and he still has some support. The man has to be given a little bit of respect. But there are other political leaders in this country now; there are other political parties here now.
Fauziah Ibrahim: It’s certainly very honorable that you want a unity government, that you want all the parties to work together in order to progress the Maldivian democracy. However it’s also been said there are larger powers than you who are actually the machinations behind what is happening in the Maldives. You are merely a puppet. Now what do you say to that.
President Waheed: No, this is not true. Because I have said, I have my terms on my coalition partners who are now coming into the government. What I am saying is that you guys nominate the people and I will put them into the Cabinet. It’s my choice where I put these people.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Much of the current political turmoil started in September last year when the Islamist group Adhaalath left Nasheed’s coalition saying that he was not doing enough to strengthen Islam in the Maldives. Do you think Islam needs to be strengthened in this country?
President Waheed: This is a Muslim country. Of course there will be some political parties that will promote Islamic values. This is also true in other countries. Even in Western countries there are political parties which espouse religious values. So in this country, in my Cabinet, we have a range of views. Most of the people in this country are educated. We have emulated liberal democratic values in our country…
Fauziah Ibrahim: And yet there is a rising growing Islamic fundamentalist movement in this country as well. Do you think Shariah law will work in the Maldives as some are calling for?
President Waheed: You see, even now our legal system is based on the Shariah and the civil law.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Do you think full Shariah law should be or can be implemented in the country?
President Waheed: Well, it is for our parliament to decide. That’s what a democracy is all about.
Fauziah Ibrahim: I put it to you that perhaps democracy does not work in the Maldives. We have seen Gayoom’s dictatorship end after 30 years. Then we have seen President Nasheed come in and try to implement democracy. You are alleging that he was dictatorial in some of his ways. Perhaps democracy does not work in the Maldives because this is a country that bases itself on personalities rather than policies. Is this right?
President Waheed: These are some of the challenges that we face. But we are increasingly moving towards a society where first of all we uphold our Constitution, we respect the rule of law and then we don’t have people who can practice dictatorial methods. But this is a struggle. This struggle did not start only in 2008. It started a long time ago. We all have suffered in the process and therefore we a stake in succeeding in democracy and democracy will continue. There is no doubt about it. We have grown up with these values. And we want our children to live in a democratic, free society. And I think it can be done in the Maldives. But people have to give in a little bit. Every time some thing happens that you don’t like, you can’t go out on the streets and start pledging and burning places. This is a more advanced country; we have more educated people here. It’s a peaceful place and we cannot give this kind of shock to the people in this country. It’s not fair.
Fauziah Ibrahim: Mr President, thank you for speaking with us.
President Waheed: Thank you.