More than 20 days into the political crisis in the Maldives, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, the situation appears to be worsening with the two sides taking irreconcilable positions even as China is said to be moving a fleet to the Eastern Indian Ocean to interdict a possible Indian move to back a diplomatic initiative with military muscle, writes P.K.Balachandran in South Asian Monitor.
The conflict between the government of President Abdulla Yameen and the united opposition led by former President Mohamed Nasheed, which began anew on February 1 with the Supreme Court passing two orders which made Yameen declare a 15-day State of Emergency on February 5, has only sharpened over time, with both sides playing for high stakes in a zero-sum game.
Meanwhile, the conflict appears to be getting internationalized with China sending a flotilla to the Eastern Indian Ocean near Maldives last week, according to the Australian website www.news.com.au.
Beijing appears to have deployed a small but capable flotilla. It has a Type 052D guided missile destroyer (Luyang-III class) which is among its most modern combat ships. With a crew of 280 and weighing some 7500 tons, it carries a helicopter, land-attack cruise missiles, surface-to-air missiles, surface-to-surface missiles and anti-submarine missiles, the website said.
The Type 054A frigate (Jiangkai II) is one of more than 21 of these modern frigates deployed by Beijing. It is a stealthy design, intended primarily to supplement the air defence of a task force, though it also has some anti-surface and submarine capability.
The Type 071 amphibious transport dock is ideal for humanitarian relief — and landing forces of troops. It can carry a variety of amphibious assault vehicles and landing craft, along with two helicopters. But it also operates hospital and command-and-control facilities. It has accommodation for up to 800 troops.
It’s also backed-up by China’s 28th Anti-Piracy Task Force out of Africa. It’s believed to have wandered closer to the middle of the Indian Ocean in recent weeks.
Worsening Domestic Situation
This week, Yameen secured a 30-day extension of the State of Emergency from the Security Committee of Parliament. But when he found that the committee had deleted three clauses relating to his status and power, he sent it back to the committee for revision according to the website www.avas.mv.
With the result, parliament is still to debate and approve of the extension, though the 15-day emergency ended on Tuesday.
A spokesman of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) said that it is not necessary for parliament to approve the extension because the power to continue or discontinue the Emergency is with the President. But the opposition quoted chapter and verse from the constitution to say that this is arrant nonsense.
With the government and the opposition determined to pull in different directions, an end to the imbroglio is not in sight.
Chances of Mediation
Given the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides, the case for outside “non-Maldivian” mediation to cut the Gordian knot, is getting stronger. There is no neutral person or force in the Maldives who can mediate given the extremely divisive nature of Maldivian politics.
But outside mediation is also fraught with problems. The opposition led by former President Mohamed Nasheed is seeking UN/Indian mediation, but the government, backed by China, has said that it will not entertain any foreign mediation. The problem can be solved by the Maldivian parties themselves, it insists.
Talks between the Maldivian parties are also problematic. While the government wants unconditional talks, the opposition says it will come for talks only if the opposition leaders now in jail (or sentenced but living abroad as fugitives) are released as per the Supreme Court order of February 1.
But the government is not prepared for that as, in its view, those leaders in jail or living as fugitives abroad (like Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party) had been sentenced for grave crimes like terrorism and bribery. Releasing them would set up a bad precedent and would cause law and order problems, the government argues.
Yameen Tightens Grip
Just a day ahead of a Special Session of parliament on February 19 to vote for the continuation of the State of Emergency, the Yameen government got two orders from the Supreme Court which would enable it to consolidate its hold on power.
One nullified an earlier order to reinstate 12 MPs who had been unseated for crossing over to the opposition, and the other ratified the legality and constitutionality of the State of Emergency.
With these two orders in hand, the Yameen regime could sail through parliament with its legislations, including extension of the State of Emergency. But reports say that he is trying to get 43 MPs on his side to have a simple majority in the 85-member parliament for the sake of legitimacy. As on date, he has only 38 or 39.
The government thinks Emergency laws are necessary to curb any tendency to stage violent demonstrations. It will enable it to continue the investigations into the alleged high-level opposition efforts to buy up Supreme Court judges; to prevent foreign elements from helping the opposition and also to defend against any foreign military intervention.
Question of Numbers
Asked how Yameen could get parliament to “pass” the extension of the State of Emergency with just 38 MPs out of a total of 85, a Maldivian government lawyer said that for ordinary resolutions and legislations, a simple majority of those present and voting is enough. A resolution to extend a State of Emergency is an ordinary one he added.
But this disputed by the opposition again by referring to the constitution. They allege that it is paucity of numbers which is making Yameen entice MPs to his side. But the response has been poor.
Call for Outside Mediation
Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed had upped the ante by asking India to send a “military-backed Special Envoy” to press Yameen to give into a whole range of the oppositions’ demands, including the release of nine top opposition leaders and reinstatement of 12 MP as per a Supreme Court order of February 1; and the release of two Supreme Court judges and the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The government case has been that the Supreme Court had encroached upon the Executive’s domain and had also passed orders without first hearing the Attorney General. It also charges that the opposition had bribed the judges to give orders against the government and even overthrow it.
The government’s explanations did not wash abroad. India and the UN expressed the need for outsider mediation. The SAARC Speakers’ Association has said that the suppression of rights will have a negative fallout on the South Asian region as a whole.
India on Tuesday asked Maldives to end the State of Emergency immediately, restore all rights, and implement the Supreme Court’s order of February 1 “in letter and spirit.”
Backed by China, the Yameen government has indicated that it will not accept foreign mediation of any kind. India differs from China’s view that foreign powers should keep off Maldives but has not taken any steps in this regard.
Meanwhile the Chinese Communist Party-backed Global Times had come out with a scathing attack on calls for an Indian military intervention warning that China would interdict Indian forces if they tried to enter Maldivian waters forcibly.