A Maldivian Emergency

A Maldivian Emergency

The Maldives has been on the boil since February 1. Besieged by hundreds of seething protesters, the government of President Abdulla Yameen is fighting a losing battle as it stands challenged by the Supreme Court that has ordered the release of all his opponents and a restless Parliament set to impeach the President.

President Yameen struck back on Sunday as Attorney-General Mohammed Anil, flanked by the Chief of Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) General Shiyam and the newly-appointed Commissioner of Police Abdulla Nawaz, effectively declared himself the chief judicial authority in the Maldives and ordered the police and the military not to follow rulings of the Supreme Court.

What the Supreme Court ordered on February 1 was the immediate release from detention of former President Mohammed Nasheed, Jumhooree Party Leader Qasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party Leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohammed Nazim, MP Faris Maumoon and four other political prisoners.  

The ruling said all political prisoners must be released as the trials against them violated the Maldives constitution and international law. The ruling also stated that political pressure was applied on the prosecutors and the courts during these trials. It further ordered that all these cases should be judicially re-evaluated in accordance with law and until a fair trial is conducted, all those persons should be released with immediate effect.

The Supreme Court further annulled the previous controversial 'anti-defection' ruling of July 2017, thus immediately reinstating 12 opposition members of parliament. These members had defected from the ruling party to the opposition and the Speaker had debarred them from holding their parliamentary seats. This act was held unconstitutional as there existed "no law on floor-crossing and changing of party membership by parliamentarians" and that the Yameen government had failed to come up with such a law even more than six months after the event. The restoration of the 12 MPs gives the opposition alliance a clear majority in the Maldivian Parliament.

Following this order, the Commissioner of Police Ahmed Areef declared that he would abide by the orders of the Supreme Court and implement it. Within hours, he was dismissed by President Yameen. He was replaced by Acting Commissioner Saudhee who, too, said he would abide by the Supreme Court orders. Soon, he was replaced by Abdulla Nawaz.

Meanwhile, the youth, led by the united opposition party leaders, have gathered since the night of February 1 to celebrate the Supreme Court verdict and force President Yameen's office to issue orders to implement its decision.

After two days of dithering, the President ordered his Attorney General to issue a direct challenge to the Supreme Court, refusing to implement its orders. Attorney General Mohammed Anil further speculated that he had reports that the Supreme Court would rule on Sunday, February 4, that President Yameen could no longer hold office, following his refusal to comply with the court's February 1 ruling.  

The Attorney General said that the Supreme Court was about to rule on Yameen and that such a ruling would be a national security threat, and hence he would not allow its implementation. The Chief of Defence and the Police Commissioner said they would follow the Attorney General's instructions.

The police then attempted to arrest Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and the court's Judicial Administrator. Protesters and police clashed outside the home of the Chief Justice Saeed late last night, amidst reports that the police were about to arrest him.

Scenes of chaos

Former President Mohammed Nasheed on Twitter labelled this unconstitutional and highly illegal move as tantamount
to a coup d'etat.

Sunday saw scenes of chaos outside the parliament, as both riot police and the military in riot gear, sealed off the legislature in an apparent - and illegal - attempt to stop parliamentarians from entering the building, where the first parliamentary session of 2018 was to begin on February 5.

Military personnel in full riot gear are currently in the chamber, as opposition MPs try to force a vote of no confidence against President Yameen.  

The Secretary-General of parliament, who had announced that he would abide by the Supreme Court order to reinstate the 12 MPs, resigned on Sunday. This follows the resignation of a host of officials, including the head of Maafushi prison, where political prisoners are currently detained. Following the Supreme Court's decision to reinstate the MPs, the Speaker had called off the opening of Parliament, scheduled for February 5. Now, the opposition parties claim they have the support of at least 50 MPs to vote for impeachment of the President. A mere 43 votes are sufficient to bring down President Yameen.

In a last ditch attempt to save himself from an united opposition supported by the judiciary and a parliament set to impeach him, President Yameen is likely to declare a national emergency and assume dictatorial powers. There are reports that the Maldivian Defence Forces personnel from islands outside Male are being rushed in hundreds of boats as the opposition, too, is mobilising supporters from other islands. The island nation is all set for a show down.

India is closely monitoring the situation, having already urged all parties to abide by the "spirit of democracy and rule of law and implement the verdict of the Supreme Court."

(The writer served as a diplomat in the Maldives)

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