Ousted Maldives President Championed Environment

There is political trouble in the Indian Ocean nation of Maldives. President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted earlier this week. Novelist Hari Kunzru, a long time acquaintance of Nasheed, talks to Steve Inskeep about what Nasheed stood for.

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To people who visit the idyllic tourist destination of the Maldives, politics can seem far away. But this week, the country's President Mohamed Nasheed stepped down after weeks of demonstrations. He was forced to resign by elements within the police and army. Here's how he described the situation to Al Jazeera.


PRESIDENT MOHAMED NASHEED: This is a coup. It definitely is, if you find any definition of a coup anywhere. I did not want to defend. That is why there was no blood.

INSKEEP: There is a warrant out for the arrest of the former president, the ousted president, who has been staying at his home, surrounded and protected by supporters. President Nasheed came to power in 2008, winning a democratic election after a dictator ruled the Maldives for 30 years.

So let's talk about this with a man who came to know the ousted president well. Hari Kunzru is a novelist and deputy president of English PEN, which works to promote literature and human rights.

Welcome to the program, sir.

HARI KUNZRU: Thank you.

INSKEEP: What makes this president something more than the president of a small country?

KUNZRU: Well, he's become a figure on the international stage, mainly because of his work around climate change, because he's one of the most eloquent spokesmen for why there should be immediate action on global climate.

The Maldives is an island nation. It consists of, you know, over a thousand tiny islands, none of which are much more than a meter above sea level. And it faces the almost 100 percent certainty that it will be completely submerged within about 50 to 100 years. And so Nasheed has to lead 300,000 people out of a sinking nation. And so, of course, this is a huge moral crusade that he's on. You know, he faces something that's only an abstraction to a lot of people.

INSKEEP: And yet he's in trouble.

KUNZRU: He is. You know, as he put it the other day, a dictatorship doesn't end on the date of the free election. And what he's faced since 2008 when he came in is the entrenched opposition of the judiciary and the kind of network of people who did very well out of the old regime.

I mean, the Maldives has a lot of income from tourism, you know. There's a lot of money sloshing around. And most of that is going into the pockets of people who own resorts and can service the tourist industry. And under the old regime, a lot of people made a lot of money. And some of it was made illicitly.

So one of the things Nasheed did was to try and go after these people and recover stolen money for the country. And he's faced extreme opposition from judges and powerful people and from elements of the security forces who've never accepted his legitimacy and who are still loyal to the old regime.

INSKEEP: You spoke of his efforts against global warming. And you said it is a crusade that he is on. You spoke in the present tense. In your mind, do you think this is a man who's going to be able to recover his job?

KUNZRU: I think he has a great deal of authority still within the country. He has, as is clear, a lot of support internationally. He represents a kind of political tradition in the Maldives that I think a lot of people in the international community want to see prevail. You know, he spent 20 years as a human rights activist and a journalist and was imprisoned many times by the dictatorship and tortured twice. So, again, he has the moral authority behind his speech.

And frankly, this is not a done deal yet. I think the situation is very fluid. It's not clear that the new government will be able to govern. And it's a small place, so things will move very rapidly in the next few days.

INSKEEP: Hari Kunzru is a novelist and a long-time acquaintance of the president of the Maldives, who was ousted in a coup: Mohamed Nasheed.

Thanks very much.

KUNZRU: Thank you.


INSKEEP: And today, the ousted president is telling reporters he's going to continue to fight to get his job back. Nasheed is calling for new elections, and he says he's going to organize street protests if those elections don't happen. This is NPR News.

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