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Now the head of what is the main opposition group, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Gayoom declined to talk to Time. Thasmeem Ali, his deputy, defended Gayoom's record, insisting the pace of development and reform that Gayoom oversaw suited the Maldives' particular conditions. "People borrow all sorts of political terms dictatorship and so on that don't fit here," says Thasmeem. "Gayoom remains our party's and this nation's greatest asset."
Most outside the drp, though, are shocked that Gayoom is not facing further scrutiny. His own ascent to the presidency three decades ago saw the arrests of some 400 political opponents in the first year of his rule. Nasheed prides his party many of whose members suffered in Gayoom's prisons for not creating a climate of retribution. He delights in the lessons this little country's democracy struggle can teach the outside world, drawing a parallel between Gayoom's autocratic rule, with its layers of corrupt bureaucracy, censorship and repressive police, and that of the state-domineering Baathism of Iraq under Saddam Hussein a man who ranked among Gayoom's personal friends. "We have a blueprint here in the Maldives," Nasheed says. "You don't need to bomb a Muslim country for regime change."
What was once a country run out of Gayoom's palace will now be organized into seven new provinces, as the government lays down the architecture of a decentralized liberal state. Nasheed has already embarked on trips to Europe and the Middle East to gin up private investment in public projects, from treating sanitation to investing in green energy to establishing the much-needed ferry network linking the archipelago's far-flung islands. Election fever is growing: Nasheed sits in office with the tenuous backing of a coalition of increasingly fractious parties, fitful after decades in which politics could not exist at all. Parliamentary elections on May 9 could give him and the MDP a stronger mandate or cripple his ability to execute his agenda.
Breaking a Habit
Whatever the political shakeout, the country still needs to cope with a crisis that may be more urgent than global warming. A generation of underemployed youth has gone sour. With space a premium in Malé, most residents live with their extended families, some even sleeping in shifts; there's no privacy at home, but even less compunction to leave. In the vacuum, drugs have taken hold. An estimated 30,000 Maldivian youths are addicts, almost 10% of the country's population. "There is nothing to do here," says Ali Adib, one of the directors of Journey, a drug-rehabilitation NGO in Malé, and a recovering addict himself. "The whole social fabric is torn."
A stroll through some of Malé's alleyways brings the crisis up close. "Brown sugar," or low-grade heroin, smuggled past the country's thinly stretched coast guard, is the narcotic of choice, and wiry, gaunt boys lurch in the midday sun from its effects. "Getting drugs," says Mohamed Arif, another ex-user, "is like pizza delivery." Their abundance, according to virtually everyone in Malé, from members of civil society to junkies, can be traced to groups within the old government. Nasheed says that the problem has less to do with the country's law-enforcement capabilities and more with endemic corruption: "People in all sorts of places had connections and links." On May 2, Nasheed claimed at a rally that his government had identified the country's six "top drug dealers," but would resist arresting them until after parliamentary elections were held, intimating that some of the suspects may be figures in the opposition.
Many in the Maldives now call for a reckoning with elements of Gayoom's regime, some of whom have left the country. Nasheed, though, refuses to go after the former government and its deposed dictator. "Few have been tortured, or brutalized, as much as I have," he says. But Nasheed insists he wants civil institutions to mature, and for an independent judiciary, not a new President, to judge the excesses of the previous 30 years. "Establishing real democracy here," says Nasheed, "will be the greatest justice of all."