The Maldives is known as an idyll of tiny islands surrounded by a placid, deep blue sea – an ideal retreat for those in search of peace and quiet. But the country’s politics is anything but calm, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor .
Elections are hotly contested, which is fair enough. But the worrying part is that State institutions are brazenly politicized triggering noisy opposition. Both the government and the opposition, ignore the exquisitely designed, modern democratic constitution, and resort to extra-constitutional methods to overcome each other. Foreign powers have also been roped in to the detriment of the country’s sovereignty.
And as the country inches towards the crucial Presidential election in September 2018, politics has become very provocative.
President Abdulla Yameen has been neutralizing his rivals by jailing them on one charge or the other and the opposition has approached the Supreme Court with a petition seeking Yameen’s removal for alleged misuse of authority and inability to govern as per the law and the constitution.
The opposition’s petition, signed by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former President Mohamed Nasheed, Hon. Gasim Ibrahim and Deputy Leader of Adhaalath Party, Uz Ali Zahir, sought Yameen’s removal specifically for the following reasons:
1) unprecedented corruption, including unjust enrichment from appropriation of state properties and funds for personal benefit, for the benefit of his family and political associates;
2) the violation on the fundamental and Constitutional freedoms of the Maldivian people, including enacting legislation to encroach on the rights of the people;
3) enactment of legislation and ratification of laws in violation of letter and the spirit of the Constitution thereby encroaching the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Maldives;
4) failure to implement the provisions of the Constitution and the law, uphold rule of law, check and balance, oversight and accountability; including interfering with the lawful functioning of Parliament, and independent commissions.
The Petition asserts that the Auditor General, Prosecutor General, Anti- Corruption Commission and the Maldives Police Service under the Minister of Home Affairs, who are nominated and appointed by the President, have failed to impartially and without fear, stop President Yameen from appropriating State funds and properties.
In such an instance, it is the constitutional duty of the judiciary to uphold the Constitution and rule of law, protect and safeguard Maldives’ territorial integrity, defend and uphold rights and freedoms of the people of the Maldives, and to ensure the President discharges his duties and functions in accordance with the Constitution and laws, the petition said.
The Joint Opposition therefore asked the Supreme Court to uphold the Constitution; help the Maldivian people hold President Yameen accountable; and to declare as per Article 117(b) of the Constitution, that President Yameen is “temporarily unable to perform the responsibilities of the Office of the President and declare that President Yameen is temporarily removed from the Office of the President.”
The petition also asks the Supreme Court to establish a Special Ad-hoc Committee in order to investigate, formulate and submit an investigation report to the Supreme Court regarding the allegations of corruption against President Yameen and hold him accountable under Article 127 of the Constitution.
The petition was made to the Supreme Court as the Parliament, which has the power to remove a President from office, has ceased to function since President Yameen ordered the military to storm the legislature.
After raiding the resorts owned by Jumhoory Party chief, Gasim Ibrahim, for tax evasion, and denying them their quota of pork and alcohol without which they cannot attract Western tourists, Yameen last Saturday arrested MP and first cousin Maumoon Faris for “plotting to overthrow the government”.
According to the police, the government fears that if Faris remains free he will obstruct the investigation, hide evidence, tamper with evidence, destroy evidence and influence eyewitnesses. An anonymous witness gave evidence upon which the warrant is based, the local media said.
Faris’s father and former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had had told an opposition gathering: “We are not sure the election will be held. We are not sure how the results are going to turn out. We do not know the things that will be involved in the election. So, there is no need to talk about an election.”
The comments provoked government ministers and key figures in the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to criticize Gayoom who was in power for three decades.
Abdul Raheem Abdulla, the PPM’s Deputy Leader, said: “A public call to overthrow an elected government must be investigated. This is not a joke,” he tweeted.
“The hidden agenda of leaders who claim to work in the interest of the country and the people is being revealed,” he added.
Defense Minister Adam Shareef warned that legal measures would be taken against those who attempt to overthrow the government.
“We will not give opportunity to disturb the peace in the country,” he told state broadcaster PSM.
The Government had accused Jumhoory Party chief, Gasim Ibrahim, of illegally procuring liquor and pork for his Villa Resorts and had stopped supply of these critical items. It has made tax claims running into millions of dollars.
The Maldivian Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) has filed suit for MVR 75 million ($4.8 million) against Ibrahim’s Villa Shipping for tax evasion.
Claims from previous law suits against five of the Villa group companies amount to $ 166 million. These cases are in court. But Villa Resorts has said that the claims on it by the Government ( totalling US$ 188 million) are baseless and that there are no outstanding dues at all.
The Government had already seized islands and lagoons previously leased to Ibrahim’s Villa group.
Meanwhile, former Maldivian Vice President, Ahmed Adeeb, who is in jail in the case relating to the bomb attack on President Yameen in 2016, has accused Yameen of instigating the violence which took place on May Day in 2015, with an intention of getting opposition politician and leader of the Adaalath Party, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, arrested.
Accused of instigating terror, Sheikh Imran Abdulla has been in jail for the last more than 1,000 days.
The main opposition leaders, Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party (JP) and Sheikh Imran Abdulla of the Adhaalath Patty (AP) have already been sentenced on charges which include terrorism and bribery.
Nasheed and Ibrahim are in self-exile aboard (having failed to return after sanctioned leave for overseas medical treatment), but Sheikh Imran Abdulla is still in jail.
Yameen’s economic card
While putting the opposition in a spot, President Yameen is going ahead with his ambitious economic development plans to use them as his plank to win the Presidential election. His “transformational economic strategy” aims at making the Maldives a multi-faceted economy which is not over-dependent on tourism and fishing.
The free education system and help to study overseas have resulted in an increasing number of educated and qualified Maldivians who need to be given jobs and investment opportunities.
The Maldivian economy has to diversify and undergo technological upgrading to be able to meet the new demands, he feels.
It is for this purpose that the Yameen Government entered into a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with China, officials say.
Maldivian officials say that the Sino-Maldivian FTA will help bring in much needed equipment and service personnel from China to help develop all sectors, including tourism, which has to have the latest facilities.
But what is not said is that it was done in a frightful hurry to enable Yameen to use it in the coming election.
However, Yameen’s domestic rivals and international detractors say that the FTA is an outright sell out to China, which will simply take over the Maldivian economy. China-funded mega projects will also drag the Maldives into a debt trap, they say.
According to former President Nasheed, the Chinese have already taken 17 islands as part of a long term “land grab” policy.
Adverse effect on tourism
But the political fighting and the possibility of violence could adversely affect tourism which accounts for 80% of the country’ GDP, trade associations say.
Tourist arrivals in Maldives decreased to 120,506 in November from 127,986 in October of 2017. There has been a fall in arrivals from China, a new and promising market. Earlier, a global economic downturn had brought down arrivals.
Calling for an end to the use of the tourism industry in domestic political squabbles, Visham Mohamed wrote in the website Avas that Maldivian politicians have been cynically and irresponsibly using tourism to destroy each other.
In 2011, the then Government closed down every spa in the country alleging prostitution because most of these were owned by political rivals, he noted.
“Since then, tourism has remained a tool for politicians, to be held hostage at their whim and narrow political interest,” Visham Mohamed said.
(The featured images at the top show the principal Maldivian opposition leaders)