Maldives former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted last week appealing to India to send an envoy backed by the army to resolve the political crisis in the Maldives. Three decades ago President Gayoom had called India, in 1988, for help to fend off an armed overthrow by Tamil mercenaries hired by two Maldivian businessmen. India launched the airborne Operation Cactus, which disarmed the mercenaries and restored order in the island country.
Several commentators and strategists have urged that India intervene in the Maldivian crisis. But the current upheaval in Maldives is due to internal political turmoil. Operation Cactus was launched on the appeal of a sitting President faced with an armed seaboard intrusion. Nasheed is a former president in exile while President Abdulla Yameen is the elected President, even if his actions are undemocratic and authoritarian.
A surprise decision by the Maldives Supreme Court ordering the release of nine political prisoners on the grounds that their trials were flawed and reinstating 12 disqualified members of Parliament plunged Maldives into a political crisis. Reinstating the MPs would have reduced the government to a minority in the Majlis. But Yameen warded off the political challenge for the present with the support of the Maldivian armed forces.
Instability and political crisis have marked political life in Maldives for some time. A young democracy – it got its first democratically elected government in 2008, its institutions are fragile, democratic functioning is still to take deeper roots and its politics is fractious.
Maldives was ruled by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for 30 years till a pro-democracy movement resulted in the 2008 election when Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party won the popular vote. However, Nasheed was ousted in an armed action by security forces in 2012. Presidential elections were held in November 2013 when Abdulla Yameen, with the support of his half-brother, Gayoom was elected in a politically disputed run-off election.
Yameen has ridden roughshod over the opposition during his tumultuous tenure. Charges were filed against Nasheed and he was sentenced to 13 years imprisonmentfor terrorism for ordering the arrest of a senior judge. Following strong international appeals Nasheed was allowed to go to the UK for medical treatment, where he sought
The opposition has leveled charges of financial impropriety against the Yameen regime. Leaders of the three main opposition parties were sentenced to prison terms on various charges and disqualified from contesting elections. Elections are due later in the year with all potential rivals barred from contesting. Yameen lost support within his party as Gayoom broke away. Nasheed, who is now based in Colombo, formed a coalition with one-time rival, Gayoom, Jumhoree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla. An impeachment motion moved by opposition alliance against the Speaker of the 85-member Parliament, Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, a Yameen ally, was defeated when Maldivian soldiers forcibly removed 13 members from the House.
In a series of swift actions, Yameen has changed two police chiefs who were ready to implement the Supreme Court order and imposed a state of emergency. Security forces stormed the Supreme Court and arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and senior judge Ali Hameed on Yameen’s orders. The remaining Supreme Court judges then reversed the earlier directive releasing opposition leaders. Gayoom and his family were arrested on charges of bribing the jailed Supreme Court judges to order the release of political leaders in a bid to overthrow the government. Demonstrators protesting the President’s actions were tear-gassed and roughly handled by the police.
Yameen has taken several controversial steps earlier including amending the Constitution to allow long-term leases of Maldivian land to foreigners. It led to large scale Chinese investment in the Maldives, as Male signed up to Beijing’s Maritime Silk Route initiative. China consolidated its influence in Maldives with a Free Trade Agreement. The Saudis also planned on leasing an island on a remote group.
While several countries including India expressed dismay, China opposed any external intervention, and later suggested a settlement through “dialogue and negotiations” between the government and opposition. However, Beijing joined other countries in issuing a stringent travel advisory against travelling to the Maldives. Tourism accounts for 80 per cent of the island’s GDP.
Yameen has sent special envoys to “friendly” China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Delhi was not on the itinerary as both prime minister Narendra Modi and external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj are on tour abroad. Yameen has won the first round with the use of force, but he may not be able to hold on for long if there is strong opposition to his tactics in the country. As the political crisis in the Maldives deepens, Male will come under increasing international pressure. India should look for a free and fair presidential election with participation of the opposition leader, which would be the best resolution for Maldives crisis.