By Akash Sahu/Vivekananda International Foundation
New Delhi, June 14: Political developments in Maldives over the past couple of months do not indicate any significant change in the approach and attitude of the Yameen Government towards resolution of contentious issues with the opposition forces led by former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Gayoom.
Even though the Government lifted the State of Emergency on March 22, 2018, it continued with its anti-opposition campaign, justifying the imposition of 45-day Emergency as necessary and based on a ‘rational deterrence’ to elements in the opposition that allegedly tried to overthrow the Government.
The deep distrust between the Yameen regime and the opposition continues.
Former president Maumoon Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed who were taken into detention on February 5, 2018 after the Supreme Court verdict, are all now formally charged with terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government. They have also been charged with obstruction of justice since they refused to hand over their mobile phones! In addition, Chief Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed is facing charges of bribery and for refusing to come over for police questioning.
While there have been accusations of the Government suppressing the voice of opposition, particularly referring to an incident where the local councilors and opposition leaders were not allowed to meet European Ambassadors. However, Maldives’ Ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed defended the Government action in an interaction with the media (Mandira Nair from ‘The Week’ published on April 15, 2018) that the councilors had not taken the prescribed approval from the Foreign Ministry for the meeting and therefore it could not be arranged.
On the other hand, former President Nasheed has spoken about the lead opposition’s preparations for the upcoming election. In a story by Avas online published on April 9, 2018, Nasheed said that the election manifesto was being prepared focusing on creating an atmosphere of unity and non-discrimination.
He stressed that his party the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will build a society where freedom of life was ensured regardless of the personal ideologies. He added that the youth of Maldives haven’t been able to explore their full potential due to the existing environment of constant fear and exclusion in the society. Many young people, he said, were feeling marginalized due to their political ideas or way of life.
It is noteworthy that the prison term makes Nasheed personally ineligible to contest the 2018 elections in the country which current President Abdul Yameen expects to win without any competition.
Yameen And UN
Recently, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which has been closely monitoring the events in Maldives, issued a directive to the Government of Maldives to allow former President Nasheed to contest the upcoming election.
The panel of experts that oversees the implementation of UN directives, has observed that the charges against Nasheed were based on vague laws, had some serious flaws and violated his right to trial. One of the Committee members, Sarah Cleveland, explained that ‘judicial proceedings that violate one’s right to trial make the consequent restrictions of political rights arbitrary and subject to review’. The Committee has given 180-days-time to the Government of Maldives to respond.
Not surprisingly, Secretary General of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in the People’s Majlis, Dr. Abdulla Khaleel, in a sharp rebuttal to the directives of the Committee, described Nasheed as a criminal and that allowing him to hold any high office would be ‘dangerous’.
Government rejected the views of the UN Human Rights Commission in an official statement on April 16, 2018. The Foreign Ministry said that the government accepted Nasheed’s conviction as lawful and final.
Maldives also in Conflict with the Commonwealth
It may be recalled that Maldives was put on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) way back in February 2016 for human rights abuses by the Government. There was also a possibility of Maldives being suspended from the Commonwealth. However, the Maldivian Government in a preemptive move had, in October 2016, decided to leave the Commonwealth, accusing the organisation of interference in its internal political affairs.
Other International Actions-EU and OIC
The European Union in a report published on 19th April, 2018, has stated that the current conditions in Maldives have to change in order to ensure free and fair elections. Eduard Kukan, EU ambassador to Maldives, led a delegation of EU officials in April where they met with the representatives of the political class, opposition, media, civil society etc. However, their meetings with the Supreme Court and the President were prevented.
The EU Election Follow-up Mission (EFM) visited Maldives in January and noted that the implementation of recommendation was limited.
On the other hand, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has pledged full support and aid to the government and people of Maldives in these hard times. The Secretary General of OIC, Dr. Youssef Al Othaimeen, met with the President when he visited Maldives last month (May 2, 2018). They discussed the role OIC can play in Maldives.
The international community is looking at the situation Maldives with concern since the unfolding of events beginning February this year when the emergency was imposed by the current regime. Male stands to lose more than gain by distancing itself from the West and other International organizations.
It must tread carefully.
The US has been worried over the Japanese charges that the Maldivian Government was providing goods to North Korean flagged ships in gross violation of UN Security Council sanctions. The opposition in Maldives has blamed the Yameen family of having had involvement in this case since the tankers in concern are controlled by the family.
Closeness to India’s Adversaries
Maldives has made a drastic change in its foreign policy and priorities. It has steadily moved towards the Chinese umbrella of alliances and sees a bright future in that camp. While it is free to align with whichever country it deems fit, Male must not forget about its dependencies on India.
The Pakistani Chief of Army, Qamar Bajwa paid a three-day-visit to Maldives in end-March, 2018; in order to improve the bilateral relations between the two countries and enhance security cooperation. This was the first high level visit to Maldives after the Emergency by any country. An apparent cooperation and nexus between Male, Islamabad and Beijing against India is being speculated in strategic discourses.
Present Equation with India
The Maldivian Ambassador to India, Ahmed Mohamed, in an interview to The Week, clarified the Maldivian stand. The Government in Maldives believes that the statement by the Ministry of External Affairs of India during the crisis in Maldives was not based on ground realities since there had been no violation of the Constitution.
The emergency was imposed, he argued, due to overstepping of the Supreme Court. He added that the downturn in the relations between India and Maldives was a result of India not reciprocating high level visits as done by Maldives.
Former President Maumoon Gayoom’s daughter, Dunya Maumoon, strongly appealed to India on April 30th, 2018, for help in securing the release of her father who has been instructed by Courts to prepare his defense against the charges leveled against him of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government.
She said that the future of her country remained uncertain and Maldives’ experiment with democracy was failing. She added that international parties like the UN and India have a moral role to make things right and help the Maldivians save democracy in their country.
She urged the Government in Maldives to consider her father’s age and allow him to come home on humanitarian grounds. She said he poses no threat to society and has already spent 80 days in jail. According to her tweet on May 3rd, 2018, she believes that India is failing in its responsibility to maintain stability and assist democracy in Maldives.
The Government of Maldives has generally indicated a departure from Indian influence and a steady inclination towards adversaries of India.
It must be noted here that a large volume of India’s trade passes through the Indian Ocean and substantial international traffic through the routes right at the cusp of Maldivian lands. Chinese control over Maldives is a concern for the larger international community.
Maldives has defaulted on the contribution that SAARC countries make to the South Asian University. There had been confusion over the return of helicopters to the Indian Government which the Indian media deemed as return of gifts by Maldives while the Maldivian position was that those copters were supposed to be handled by Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) after a fixed amount of time which could not take place due to insufficient training of the MNDF.
According to latest media report, the Abdulla Yameen regime has now asked India to remove its second ‘gift’ naval chopper (ALH Dhruv) from the Laamu Atoll. The Letter of Exchange (LoE) for this chopper expired last month and but Male has not only officially refused to renew it but has also asked India to complete the process of removal of both Indian choppers by June end (Times of India June 5).
A hostile or even indifferent Indian posture can bring enormous harm to the Maldivian public and the region. Analysts believe that the Yameen Government is moving on a path of confrontation with India, apparently in pursuit of bigger ambitions through Chinese investments without realizing the overall strategic cost.
It is also argued that the real motive behind theses overtures is securing China’s political support for the Yameen regime. And in this process it is even ignoring the lessons learnt from the Sri Lankan experience.
Analysts also maintain that India is unlikely to compromise with its strategic space and any extra-regional threat emanating through Maldives. In that event India may feel compelled to redesign its options. One will have to wait and watch how the developments pan out in the near future, before and after the elections, if and when held.