Maldives soaks in history as new president takes charge

November 11th, 2008 - 4:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Male, Nov 11 (IANS) The Maldives, an Indian Ocean tourist paradise known for its luxurious resorts and sunny beaches, Tuesday ushered in a new era of change as 41-year-old Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed took oath as president, marking the end of three decades of one-man rule. It was an electrifying moment for the 370,000 people in the 200-odd inhabited islands of this atoll nation as Nasheed, a former Britain-educated political prisoner, promised his citizens freedom of expression and dissent and vowed to build a new Maldives from “the flames of hatred, jealousy and rancour”.

Hundreds of Maldivians gathered to cheer the president-elect as he took the oath after recitations of Quranic verses and the national anthem in the presence of a galaxy of foreign leaders, dignitaries and envoys at an elegant ceremony at an international convention centre on the seafront in Male.

A 21-gun salute followed the ceremony. Most Maldivians were glued to their TV screens watching Nasheed replace Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had jailed him many times for dissident.

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari and Princess Dina Mired of Jordan were among those who witnessed the “unique moment of change” in the nation, comprising 1,190 islands and located 800 km from India’s southern tip.

Over the years, the Maldives, which has the highest per capita income in South Asia, has morphed into a luxury holiday getaway and honeymoon nest where Hollywood celebrities don’t mind spending thousands of dollars for a few days of peace and bliss.

Clad in a black suit and sporting a bright yellow tie, the colour of hope and of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Nasheed, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, captured the mood of optimism and renewal among people of the Maldives.

“Our republic today is decorated with the new hues that mark this historic moment in time, the age we live in and the circumstances of the nation,” the president said.

“Today we can all sense that the time has come for the people to realise their long-cherished dreams,” he said in his maiden presidential address.

Blending rhetoric and statesmanship, Nasheed spoke of reconciliation as he exhorted Maldivians to overcome the past and move to a new future.

“No flowers will bloom, no birds will chirp and no butterflies will flutter in the flames of hatred, jealousy and rancour,” he said, while alluding to bitter partisan politics that had preceded the first multi-party elections last month that ended the three-decade rule of Gayoom.

He also promised to deliver on the five promises made by his Maldivian Democratic Party and the pro-democracy alliance he led to power, including better transport facilities in remote islands, controlling the cost of living, providing better housing and healthcare, and banning drugs from the country.

In a populist vein, he also announced a stipend of nearly $200 for people over 65 years of age - a measure that is aimed at winning the older people who were more inclined towards supporting Gayoom.

In a veiled dig at his predecessor, who chose to live in $60 million presidential palace, Nasheed hinted at more austere living and transparent governance.

“It is human to be consumed by the trappings of office and its lures… I pray to the almighty to keep me steadfast in honouring the responsibilities of my office and in protecting the rights of the people,” he said.

Nasheed has promised to convert the presidential palace into a university and live in a more modest place.

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