If the Maldivian twittersphere is any indication, the entire country was certainly set abuzz following the opening of the new parliament sitting. It is, after all, the very first indication of the direction our country would shift forward over the course of the next five years.
The opening of the Parliament brings us to the next step in our democratic development. Therefore the attention and excitement surrounding the inauguration are completely warranted, as well as the hopes of many citizens linked to the opening of the chamber’s doors. So too, however, are the trepidations in many disillusioned watchful eyes, wary of the stains in the canvas of the Parliament’s history.
The April 6 parliamentary elections moulded the new socio-political landscape of the country with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) attaining a monumental landslide victory of 65 constituencies out of 87; the public effectively handing the party a super-majority.
As the 19th parliament convened for its first sitting on May 28, with the newly elected 87 MPs sworn in to the unicameral (singular) legislative chambers, their first order of business, naturally, was to elect the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament.
Remarkably, but also perhaps predictably when taking into account public opinion expressed in 2018’s polls, MDP would prove to win in that respect as well with former President and current President of MDP Mohamed Nasheed being elected as Speaker of Parliament, set to serve alongside the Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla, also hailing from the ruling party.
With the President, a super-majority in parliament as well as the Speaker and Deputy Speaker of Parliament all belonging to MDP, the political party currently holds authority over the executive and legislative powers, two out of the three founding state powers (Maldives Constitution, 2008).
The overwhelming authority that MDP currently holds would mean that the party has now been granted the best opportunity possible to prove that it can stick true to its claims; that at its very core, the party will represent ‘power to the people’.
Since 2008’s massive shift towards modern democratic values, this is the most amount of authority a singular political party has attained. It must then deliver on the numerous promises from President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s electoral pledges to the parties’ declared agenda for the 2019 election, to be demonstrated in the parliament’s 19th sitting, now officially underway.
While the masses continue to celebrate the promise of a brighter future, the monumental timing implores the same, emphasising the importance of remembering the many ways in which history has proven time and again that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
Hence, in this writer’s opinion, it is absolutely critical at this time, more than any other, that the citizens remain aware of and actively engage in various forms of civic participation.
It is understood that the three separate powers were created in order to best serve the people at the forefront under democratic values, and to prevent opportunities for authoritarianism and corruption. After all, democracy is intended to function with the citizens’ best interest at every tenet.
With such importance placed on the citizens, it is then of utmost importance for the people to respond in kind and participate in the administrative decisions that directly affect the people of the nation.
It is not enough, as we have seen through the many political turbulences speckled across our history alone, that the citizens participate in politics only to elect figures to positions of power, but must proceed further, holding representatives accountable in every decision that follows.
Under civic engagement, there must be a direct channel of communication between citizens and the politicians that represent their needs, values, and wants in the parliament. To make informed decisions that best fits citizens’ interests mandates that the public must have access to information on parliament sittings, voting decisions, the MPs themselves (including - but not limited to - financial statements and contact information), bills, laws and the constitution.
To its credit, unlike previously seen, MDP representatives are adhering to make public information more accessible. The People’s Majlis website currently being updated to make bi-weekly press releases on parliament floor sittings, the disclosure of financial statements for every MP being mandated, and MDP's advocacy calling for MPs to be present to vote will now have more authority under the new sitting.
Furthermore, the Non-Governmental Organisation Transparency Maldives unveiled an online website ‘MageyMP’ allowing constituents to follow the voting history of their representatives as well as their track record of attending the chambers to make law-making decisions.
With MDP holding authority over two-thirds of the three separate powers, and their stance as proponents of democracy, they must fulfil their promises by providing information to the people and by involving the citizens in their decisions. While having such overwhelming power that no other party has attained thus far, it is inexcusable for them to fail in providing citizens with the progress and development that won them the very votes that granted them their current authority.
The wise adage ‘with great power, comes great responsibility’ then comes to mind. For better or for worse, MDP has attained this great power through the citizens' vote. Therefore, this is an opportunity directly entrusted to the party by the great majority of Maldivian citizens, tinged with no small amount of blood, sweat and tears on both ends.
And so caution will most certainly be reserved in our outlook on the current status quo, as it so should, for it still remains to be seen whether the party will fulfil their conduct responsibly.
One thing remains clear; we must be observant, vigilant and active in crafting our futures.