Maldives headed for turbulent dictatorship

The recent events in Maldives beginning with the arrest and detention of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, on January 8, on grounds of plotting a coup and the subsequent arrest of former president Mohammed Nasheed, on February 22, on ‘terrorism charges’ indicate a growing tendency towards despotism by President Abdulla Yameen.

These two arrests come after a series of other high profile sackings including that of the Health Minister, Chief Justice and a brother judge of the Supreme Court (impeached by the Majlis on charges of ‘gross misconduct’ without stating the nature of misconduct) and that of the Auditor General. All this within a year of Yameen’s coming to power substantiates the charge that the island nation is headed for a turbulent dictatorship. Turbulent, because Yameen’s course will not be smooth and would be strongly opposed and resisted. 

A closer examination of the charges against the prime accused would bear out the fact that President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom brooks no opposition and is intolerant of dissent.

Firstly the two Judges, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan, were removed by the Majlis mainly because they were the only two judges that had not supported Yameen’s dubious accession to Presidency.

A recall of the events of September to November 2013 presidential elections clearly demonstrate that Yameen’s victory was made possible only by the judiciary repeatedly thwarting and subverting the mandate of the people who had twice voted overwhelmingly in favour Mohammed Nasheed.

Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim was removed on a technicality that the Audit Act predated the 2008 Constitution and thereby did not envisage current responsibilities of the post. The real reason was that he had released an incriminating report against the Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheed, a close confidant of the President, implicating him in a corruption scandal of over $6 million.    

As for Defence Minister Nazim, it was revealed that in an early morning raid on his house, the police found a pistol and three cartridges. They had also seized a pen drive that revealed certain incriminating documents. The prosecution contended that the documents show that Nazim was conspiring with opposition leader Gasim Ibrahim to harm senior government officials.

In a country where the defence forces have reportedly held a gun to the head of their Commander-in-Chief President Nasheed (February 2012), the defence minister must have thought it wise to at least have a pistol and a couple of cartridges to face the unpredictable force that he was commanding. To suggest that he was plotting a coup with the meager arms that he possessed appears a bit farfetched.   

Then came the arrest of former president Nasheed on charges terrorism for reportedly ordering the arrest and detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohammed in January 2012. Why was this arrest carried out after three years? Why was Nasheed not arrested much earlier and convicted so that he could have been prevented from contesting the Presidential elections in 2013? That’s where India comes in.

Broken commitment

Soon after the controversial coup in February 2012 that overthrew the first democratically elected President of Maldives Mohammed Nasheed, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had gone to Male and taken a commitment from the then President Mohammed Waheed that Nasheed would not be imprisoned; free and fair elections would be held within 6 months and that Nasheed would be allowed to contest the elections. President Waheed did not stick to the election schedule but ensured that Nasheed remained free to contest and campaign for the Presidential polls that were finally held from September to November 2013.

The fact that Nasheed emerged a clear leader with 45.45 per cent of popular vote share as against Yameen’s 25.35 per cent and Gasim Ibrahim’s 24.07 per cent in the first round of elections on September 7 was a resounding indictment of the perpetrators of the coup. But they were not ready to accept the verdict of the people. Yameen and his elder step-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled Maldives for over 35 years had other plans.

First they used the judiciary to go on postponing the second round of elections till Gasim was humbled to a distant third position. And then he was persuaded (or arm-twisted) to support Yameen. After all the shenanigans Yameen barely managed to secure 51.9 per cent against Nasheed’s 48.6 per cent in the final round held on November 16, 2013.
When the Maldivian Judiciary repeatedly interfered with the expression of popular mandate, India had issued a strong demarche by the then foreign minister Salman Khurshid calling “for holding the run-off elections as scheduled” and adding that “India was deeply disappointed and distressed with the postponement of the run-off”.

The Modi government has demonstrated a sharp sense of deeper engagement with the neighbours, right from the day of the swearing in of Prime Minister Modi. It was widely expected that he would exercise a more muscular foreign policy. Surprisingly, our official response to events in Male has been timid and even that has been rebuffed by the Foreign Minister of Maldives.

Is it too much to acknowledge some leaders in the neighbourhood as our friends and stand by them? Of course, Prime Minister Modi has struck off Maldives from his scheduled trip, next week, to the island nations of the Indian Ocean region. Will that be a strong enough signal to President Yameen, who is basking in the new- found friendship with China, remains to be seen. 

(The writer served in Maldives on a diplomatic assignment for three years)

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