Mohamed Nasheed to visit India in mid-April

New York: Nearly two months after he was ousted as Maldives` President, Mohamed Nasheed has said he will visit India next month to seek support for his efforts to hold early elections and restore a democratically-elected government in his country.

44-year-old Nasheed, who became Maldives` first democratically-elected President following multi-party polls in October 2008, had resigned on February 7 in what he claims was a coup.

He said he was shocked at the US and Indian governments` rapid move to recognise the new regime headed by Mohammaed Waheed Hassan after he was ousted from power. "I will go to India in the middle of next month and plan to meet as many political leaders as possible," including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Nasheed told PTI here.

"I would like to ask the people of India to be with us and to not let go (of their support for us). They should not let dictatorship return to Maldives. We have to have early elections. We can come back on track again. We definitely need the support of India," he said.

Nasheed, who is in the US for the release of a documentary on climate change, said he hopes India will "come around" and support him even though it had moved quickly to recognise the new regime in Maldives.

"I will talk to the Indian people. Our love for India will never die. When we start talking to the people, the Indian government will also listen. Whatever may be the reason that India was unable to do what we wanted them to do, but I think they will come around," he said, adding that he is encouraged that India is now realigning its policies.

He vowed to continue his fight to bring democracy back on track in Maldives, saying he will not let go and contest elections to return to power.

Nasheed, who made an appearance at the popular TV programme "Late Show with David Letterman," was in the city yesterday to address an audience at the Columbia University.
He would also be meeting Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman and other State Department officials in Washington tomorrow. He has already met officials at the United Nations and discussed the developments in his country.

During his over an-hour-long interaction with students at Columbia, Nasheed spoke at length about the alleged coup in his country, his disappointment with governments in India and the US over their response to the situation as well as his thoughts on how government and people can tackle climate change.

Setting the scene before his address at Columbia, the university played the trailer of his movie `The Island President` and showed a video of efforts undertaken by him, including the famous under-water Cabinet meeting he had held before the Copenhagen climate meet, to raise awareness about the danger Maldives faces from rising sea levels.

Nasheed said currently he is focused on restoring democracy in Maldives and bringing "the country back on track" by holding free and fair elections again. He said the people of Maldives have extended their support for a democratically-elected government and are calling for early elections.

"Unfortunately we are still unable to have elections and nor has any date been set for the elections," he said adding that the next scheduled election will be held in 2013.

Nasheed expressed concern that elections have to be held soon otherwise "we are afraid the level playing field would be skewed against us. We cannot give up, cannot relent. This is a very sad state of affairs but we have to be able to see how we can get democracy back in our country."

Nasheed again voiced his concern over the stand taken by India and the US in the aftermath of the political turmoil in his country. "It was deeply disturbing to see the US and India so rapidly recognising the new regime in Maldives. It did not take them one day to do so. They should have held on to their horses for some more time to understand what is actually happening on the ground. We must try to ask bigger countries not to be so hasty" in always supporting the "status quo", he said

"If bigger countries are not able to back democratic forces, it is going to be very difficult for smaller countries like us to do it".

Asked why, in his opinion, was the US so quick to recognise the new regime in Maldives, Nasheed said the US government "simply did not have a grip" on what was happening his country. "The coup was seamlessly staged. Its perpetrators were prepared very much in advance. The US government did not see what happened because it was done seamlessly. But the US is now realigning its position," Nasheed said.

He said the people of Maldives had rejected the dictatorship when they elected his government in 2008. "The coup has brought dictatorship back and I do not think people want me to compromise with that."

Nasheed said it is not important for him to come back to power but insisted that any government that rules the country should be brought to power through free and fair elections and not through "brutal force." "It does not matter who is elected President in Maldives as long as there is an election and people decide who should be ruling them," he said.

Commenting on the arrest of the Chief Justice of the country`s criminal court Judge Abdulla Mohamed, a move that snowballed into a political crisis, Nasheed said in hindsight he feels he could have handled the problem in a different way. He explained that while elections ensured a democratic government was put in place, "there was no election that could create a judiciary."

The judiciary continued to have judges who were "handpicked by former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The dictatorship was hiding behind the judiciary," Nasheed charged. "All the human rights abuse cases and corruption cases were sitting with the judges. We were not able to do anything. People were losing confidence in the judiciary," he said, claiming that there were several complaints against judge Mohamed.

Nasheed said the move by Mohamed to have a child reenact in court how he was abused "disgusted" everybody. "Yes it was not the best thing to remove the judge in that fashion. But in the absence of anyone doing anything, I believe that had to be done to restore confidence of the people in the judiciary. The President had to do it. I am sorry that happened. In hindsight there may have been many other ways to do it but I do not think having a coup justifies anything."

Nasheed said the western world may not understand the political scene in Maldives but "in simple terms judge Mohamed was becoming a nuisance."

The ousted Maldives President is in the US for the release of a documentary on climate change, which showcases his efforts to draw the world`s attention to the risk his country faces due to global warming.

In the documentary, Nasheed warns that his low-lying archipelago faces the danger of being submerged in the next 50 years if the international community does not act now to tackle the issue of climate change.