The travails of the Maldives could be attributed to the fact that it is still a young democracy, having emerged just ten years ago from three decades of dictatorship, says P.K.Balachandran in Daily Mirror.
The Maldives is an archipelago of hundreds of tiny, idyllic islands, many of which are luxury resorts attracting Westerners in search of a quiet retreat. But the quietness of the country appears to be restricted to its physical features.
Maldives’ politics has been one of the noisiest and volatile in the South Asian region in recent times.
The volatility and the instability that one is seeing presently, and has been seeing frequently in the last decade, could be attributed to a variety of factors, but fundamentally they appear to stem from the fact that democracy is new to the country, just ten years old. And power is still concentrated in the hands of an elite, which like all power elites, constantly scheme against each other to grab and monopolize power.
Maldives is now on the verge of political chaos with President Abdulla Yameen facing a sudden onslaught from, not just the opposition parties which he is used to, but from institutions like the Supreme Court and the Election Commission, which were thought to be firmly under his control.
The loyalty of the police, a vital arm of the State, came under suspicion and its chief was changed twice in two days last week.
The Supreme Court last Thursday ordered the government to immediately release from prison nine top opposition political leaders. Among them was former President Mohamed Nasheed. The Court also re-instated 12 MPs who had been sacked earlier for crossing the floor. If implemented, these orders would have greatly strengthened the opposition parties both inside and outside Parliament and helped the opposition carry out its threat to impeach President Yameen.
On Sunday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil told the media that government has information about the Supreme Court’s plan to pass an order to arrest and impeach Yameen. Anil dubbed the move as unconstitutional and said that as per the constitution, only parliament can impeach and remove the President.
He warned that the government and the police would not carry out illegal and unconstitutional orders. Army Chief, Maj.Gen. Ahmed Shiyam, who was by Anil’s side, said that the Security Forces would stand by the government in upholding the law and constitution.
The Maldives Parliament minus a number of opposition MP, was thought to be firmly under Yameen’s control. Vital resolutions of far reaching domestic and international import, such as the China-Maldives Free Trade Agreement (CMFTA), were passed in ten minutes flat without a debate.
But then, suddenly on Thursday, the Supreme Court passed an order re-instating twelve MPs who had earlier been unseated for cross floor crossing. If they do come back to Parliament and sit with the opposition, the latter’s power to pass an impeachment motion against the President with the required two thirds majority would have been enhanced.
To add to Yameen’s woes, the Secretary General of Parliament, Ahmed Mohamed, resigned, as he had been of the view that the reinstated MPs could start attending parliament.
Fearing trouble, the Speaker decided to postpone the parliament session indefinitely and the Security Forces surrounded parliament. Two reinstated MPs, Abdulla Sinan and Ahmed Ilham, who had arrived from abroad, were arrested at the airport.
Earlier, the Election Commissioner, Ahmed Sulaiman, resigned amidst former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s allegation that Yameen is planning to rig the September 2018 Presidential election. After Sulaiman’s exit, the President decided to have an entirely new Elections Commission and called for applications..
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court refused to accept the government’s plea that the nine political leaders ordered to be released by the court cannot be released because of certain legal and other concerns and that a mutually acceptable way has to be found to implement the release order.
The government had pointed out that the leaders in question had been jailed for serious offences like terrorism, bomb attacks, bribery, embezzlement and fraud.
But the Supreme Court said on Sunday that it did not accept the government’s concerns as valid because the court was only asking for release prior to a retrial. The court’s point is that the trials which had ended in conviction were not fair.
Meanwhile, in an effort to intimidate the Supreme Court, the government started investigating the allegedly questionable purchase of properties by Justice Ali Hameed and the Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed Hussain. There were reports that Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed may also have been involved in such transactions.
The Criminal Court passed an order to arrest the Judicial Administrator, but the Supreme Court annulled it saying that the lower court had not followed the correct procedure.
Thirst for monopolistic power
These events are a culmination of more than four years of authoritarian rule of President Yameen. Though he has rendered yeoman service for the economic development of the Maldives by trying to diversify its fisheries and tourism-based economy, there has been a palpable deficit in his skills in handling of men and matters.
Like his predecessors, Yameen has been high-handed and arbitrary and hungry for monopolistic power, alienating even his principal supporters in the process. Yameen enacted and enforced harsh restrictions on free speech and assembly. In 2015 former President Nasheed was arrested on terrorism charges and was jailed for 13 years. Though the trial was not seen as being fair, the Supreme Court validated it in June 2016. In November 2015, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb was arrested and jailed for alleged involvement in a plot to kill Yameen.
The courts and Election Commission (EC) also announced decisions that benefited the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The EC deregistered almost half of all MDP members, citing their failure to adhere to a law requiring them to submit their fingerprints to it. In December 2016, a civil court ruled that the EC must postpone local council elections set for January 2017 because the ruling party, embroiled in a leadership dispute, was not sufficiently prepared for them.
Parliament approved and Yameen ratified a new act criminalizing and raising fines for defamation to up to Rufiyaa 2 million (US$130,000). Those who fail to pay the fines can be jailed for up to six months. Several media outlets were forced to close following decisions by the courts or by regulators, prompting alarm among press freedom advocates.
In 2016, Nasheed had been given leave to go to the UK for medical leave but is yet to come back to serve his sentence. The Jumhoory Party leader Gasim Ibrahim , who was with Yameen, was alienated and subsequently arrested for bribery and sentenced to three years in prison. Recently Gasim’s resorts were denied critical supplies and a huge tax bill of US$ 200 million was slapped. Gasim too was given leave to go abroad for medical treatment but is yet to come back. In February 2016, the Adaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran was charged with terrorism for organizing a rally and sentenced to 12 years in jail.
From the UK, Nasheed gathered all the opposition parties and vowed to unseat Yameen “through constitutional methods”. In this he has the full support of the powers which are looking at Yameen’s lurch towards China with alarm.
Opposition no better
But opposition leaders have not been pure as driven snow either. They behaved the same way when they were in power. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ,who is now a senior leader of the anti-Yameen movement, ruled with an iron hand for 30 years.
Nasheed had to fight hard to get him to draft a democratic constitution and hold fair elections in 2008. But in January 2012, Nasheed ordered the arrest of the Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed known as “Liberty’s Shield”. Judge Abdulla’s arrest triggered a police and military mutiny forcing Nasheed’s resignation on February 7, 2012.
Circulation of elites
The problem in the Maldives appears to be that though democratic institutions have been put in place, and the 2008 constitution is impeccably modern, implementation by the political leaders and institutions have been grievously flawed.
The entrenched and historic thirst for dictatorial power has not gone away with the advent of “democracy”. This is partly because politics is still in the hands of the country’s socio-economic and political elite, which has been ruling dictatorially for decades.
For example, President Yameen is the half-brother of former dictator and now the opposition patriarch, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. And several of Yameen’s relations are on the opposition due to family quarrels over the spoils of office.
Maldivian politics lacks in loyalty, with the result, no leader is sure of his supporters. He has to be on guard all the time and nip opposition in the bud, which in turn, generates intense animosity and triggers the urge for revenge.
(The featured images of the top are of the Maldivian opposition leaders)