Colombo, April 3: The Maldivian opposition leader, Mohamed Nasheed, is optimistic about ousting President Abdulla Yameen through the constitutional parliamentary route because parliament is now going the opposition’s way, as seen in the vote on the no-confidence motion against the Speaker, says P.K.Balachandran writing in www.southasianmonitor.com.
Although the motion was defeated, the margin was too narrow to give Yameen any comfort, Nasheed claimed.
“To start with, Yameen had 61 out of the 85 members of the Majlis (parliament), but the recent non-confidence motion against the Speaker showed that it has come down to 48. I am not disappointed with the vote on the no-confidence motion, On the contrary, I am encouraged,” Nasheed affirmed.
“Yameen is now working with a wafer thin majority of four. If 10 people who oppose him privately come out in the open to support the opposition, he will lose parliamentary majority. This could happen in weeks given the unification of the opposition and the loss of support from the bureaucracy and the police,” Nasheed told this correspondent recently.
Asked what makes him think that the Establishment is turning against Yameen, Nasheed said: “Yameen has not been able to arrest opponents en masse because the police would not cooperate.”
A very encouraging development is the coming together of all opposition groups and also former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the President of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), on March 24, Nasheed said.
Gayoom, a half brother of President Yameen’s, was with Yameen till the other day, though his son was sacked from a government party post and his daughter Dhunya Maumoon resigned as Minister of Foreign Affairs upon differences over the death penalty.
Nasheed, Gayoom, Qasim Ibrahim MP, and Sheikh Imran Abdulla agreed to work together, with the express intention of restoring democracy; ensuring free and fair elections, and protecting the Maldivians’ constitutional rights.
Gayoom is the President of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Nasheed is the president of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Qasim Ibrahim is the leader of Jumhooree Party (JP), and Sheikh Imran is the President of the Adhaalath Party (AP).
In a joint declaration, the leaders said that they are coming together to: safeguard the tenets of Islam, independence, sovereignty and nationalism; protect ownership of the land, sea and natural resources belonging to the country; find a solution to the political discord afflicting the country; safeguard civil and political rights arrogated from citizens; ensure elections held in the Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political parties choosing are allowed to contest; secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial, or convicted of politically motivated charges; prevent corruption and embezzlement within the government; and seek the restitution of transactions and properties unlawfully seized from citizens by the government.
Asked why the Maldivian opposition, partly at home and partly in exile in London, is not able to oust Yameen despite optimistic declarations every now and then, Nasheed said: “We don’t want to overthrow the President by any means. The idea is to remove him democratically by getting support from parliament. Yameen should see the writing on the wall meet us. I am ready to talk to him”.
Nasheed said that the opposition is fighting for the restoration of the Rule of Law and not against any particular individual as such.
“I want Yameen to change. I am not for denying him his full term. In the Maldives nobody has been able to complete his term. Our aim is to democratize the structure first before we change the head. We will use the elected parliament to reform the judiciary to make it independent, and to set up an independent human rights commission,” he said.
The next Presidential election is due to 2018.
Nasheed became Maldivian President in 2008 in the country’s first democratic election in three decades. But Maumoon Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives as a dictator, did not take kindly to this change, as Nasheed was a human rights activist who wanted to democratize all the institutions Gayoom had set up, especially the judiciary.
Matters came to a head when Nasheed ordered the arrest of a corrupt judge who was letting corrupt persons associated with the Gayoom regime go scot free. In the bid to overthrow him, Nasheed was accused of being against Islam and a terrorist to boot. In 2015, he was sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Under Gayoom’s rule, he had been arrested 16 times and had spent six years in jail, 18 months of which in solitary confinement tortured by thugs. But even then, Nasheed swore that he would not counter violence with violence.
“I will not rule with an iron first,” he had said.
Due to international pressure on the Yameen regime, Nasheed was allowed to go out of jail and into exile in the UK, from where he has been trying to oust Yameen through democratic means with international support.
Role of Saudis and China
Asked for the basis Yameen’s power, the opposition leader said that he is propped up by external funding. He would not name the source of the funds, but hinted that it could be Saudi Arabia and China – “countries which like to work with authoritarian regimes as they themselves are authoritarian.”
In 2015 the Yameen regime had changed the law to allow foreigners to buy land and there was a strong rumor that the Saudi Crown Prince was wanting to buy a resort island in the Maldives. This led to huge protests, though Riyadh denied that there was any such plan. But Saudi King Salman, who was to come to Maldives in March, canceled it at the last moment. He cited the swine flu epidemic in the Maldives as the reason.
Nasheed said that the Saudis are using the Islamization route to influence the Maldivians.
“Traditionally Maldivians have been following a liberal form of Islam. But the Saudis are spreading a rigid form which has influenced a significant section of our population. Ideologically, there is no difference between the Saudi brand of Islam and that of the ISIS,” he said.
On the Chinese, the opposition leader said that they too may have territorial ambitions in the Maldives. But currently, the worry is the Maldives’ indebtedness to China. Seventy to 80 percent of the Maldives’ external debt is to China, he pointed out.
“When I come to power, we will renegotiate the terms of Chinese-funded projects to see if they were fair and in the interest of the country. China is not transparent in its dealings. We will learn from the experience of the Sri Lankan Ports Minister Arjuna Ranatunga in re-negotiating the deal over Chinese built Hambantota port,” Nasheed said.
International Community’s Role
The international community is backing the opposition, some openly like the US, EU and Canada, but some support quietly, like India and Sri Lanka, Nasheed said.
“India always acts quietly. They never make statements. But Sri Lanka, being very close to us, should be more vocal. Sri Lanka needs to play a more prominent role as no scheme will work in the Indian Ocean without Sri Lanka’s cooperation. It is the only Indian Ocean country in the South Asian region. New Delhi is far away. Distance-wise, New Delhi is closer to Moscow than to Colombo,” the Maldivian leader remarked.
(The featured image at the top shows Maldivian opposition leader Mohmed Nasheed answering questions put by Colombo-based correspondent P.K.Balachandran)