Monday, February 12, 2018

Trouble brews in Indian Ocean – Maldives

Political cyclones are not new to this island nation. Current sequence of events has its root in 2011 when then president Mohammed Nasheed faced opposition campaign in the name of protecting Islam (that’s what opposition claimed, even though there was hardly anything supporting their claim) and subsequent mutiny forced him to resign. Later his deputy Mohammed Waheed Hassan became president. Nasheed was later arrested, charged with terrorism, convicted and sentenced for 13 years in a flawed trial. He was later released to exile. This flawed trial exposed judicial system which lost all her credibility.

Nasheed was again elected in 2013 elections. However, Supreme court intervened and annulled results. Once again it became clear where court’s loyalty stands. In second election Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom (former president Goyoom’s half-brother) was elected as president.

Yameen took the country in a different direction. He considerably enhanced relations with China. Xi Jinping - first Chinese leader to visit - reached Maldives in 2014. China got huge infrastructure projects - bridges, ports and airport. Like other countries currently in Chinese orbit, Maldives is also accumulating huge external debt. As per IMF projections, Maldives’ external debt presently stands at 34.7% of GDP. By 2021 it is expected to reach 51% of GDP. Interesting fact is, two thirds of this debt is to Chinese. Yameen also started a crackdown on political dissidents, arrested his vice president and even declared a 30-day emergency on may, 2016.

As per a Guardian article, "president Yameen has ruled with an authoritarian streak, and was accused of corruption, thuggery and international money laundering in an explosive Al-Jazeera documentary, Stealing Paradise. All senior opposition figures have been jailed or forced into exile, joined by a stream of Yameen’s allies, accused of treason, corruption and myriad assassination plots".

Independent journalism already breathed its last in Maldives. Foreign correspondents are barred and local journalists disappeared.

Supreme Court Judgement

In an unexpected turn of events, Maldives Supreme Court ordered release of all political prisoners (Maldivian Democratic Party’s Nasheed, Jumhoree Party chief Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath’s Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, MP Faris Maumoon, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb, former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhusin, chief magistrate Ahmed Nihan and local businessman Hamid Ismail) and reinstated 12 members of parliament who had been stripped of their posts. These members were earlier defected from ruling party and joined opposition; reinstating them will make ruling party a minority in parliament.

Court reasons that, political prisoners were tried without due process, violating constitution and human rights treaties. Court also noted that, prosecutors and judges had been 'unduly influenced' and investigations are 'politically motivated'.

What make current turn of events unusual is Supreme Court's 180-degree volte face. It was same Supreme Court which gave a flawed verdict against Nasheed and annulled election results. Now, court got some spine and ordered release and retrials of president's opponents.

Supreme court got some backbone, but we don’t know how long it will be there. Supreme court was also a part of whatever went wrong in Maldives. As per Guardian report, "...Handpicked by Gayoom during his rule and illegally given life tenure under the new constitution in 2010, the judges have been at the centre of most of the Maldives’ recent ills; at least 50% of the 200-odd judges and magistrates have less than seventh-grade education, while a quarter had actual criminal records, including convictions for sexual misconduct, embezzlement, violence and disruption of public harmony"

Yameen’s Retribution

Judgement didn’t go well with president Abdulla Yameen. He refused to comply with order and ordered imprisonment of Chief Justice, judges and other dissidents (which includes former president and Yameen’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom). To control all organs of state, he even ordered a state of emergency for 15 days.


While political leadership was fighting each other, and suppressing democracy, country’s youth were getting radicalized and joining IS. As per news report, "Maldives has likely contributed more fighters to Syria and Iraq on a per-capita basis than any other country not directly engaged in the conflict".

Impact in Economy

Current set of political events are hitting Maldives major industry – her bread and butter - tourism. Travel adversaries are out from several countries.


Elections were scheduled for later this year. Now it’s not clear whether Yameen will go ahead with election while his popularity is hitting rock bottom. Even if conducted whether it will be fair?
After arrests, Maldives President Yameen sent his Minister Mohamed Saeed to India and China. India refused to see him. Official line is dates are not suitable. Special envoy is also to visit, China, Pakistan as well as Saudi Arabia.

India’s Role

What India will do with crisis in her backyard? China already made considerable inroads to this island nation and unlike India, China (for that matter Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) won’t find any problem in siding with strongmen who suppress political dissidents and democracy.

Nasheed’s Request

Nasheed publicly asked India to send a special envoy with military backing. Back in 1989 India intervened (Operation Cactus) to stop overthrowing of then Maldives government. Situation is considerably different this time. In 1989, it was as per the request of Maldives ruler to support democracy (with full public support). Now also the objective is to support democracy; but now ruler is the root cause of all problems. Moreover, Maldives is radicalized a lot. We don’t know how far the people and Maldives own defence forces view such a move.

In an interview with The Wire, Nasheed told, “I am not asking necessarily for Indian troops or Indian boots on Male… we don’t think that simply asking him (President Yameen) would do the trick… How you assist your neighbour in the 21st century in my view would be rather different on how it was done in the 20th or 19th century. I am sure we can use our imagination and I am sure that people in Delhi would have a variety of tools to be able to use in achieving a given objective”.

Simply talking to Yameen is not going to change anything. Sanctions will only drag the problem and create hardship for Maldives’ population. Military operations on the other hand neither be swift nor supported by whole public.

India asked Yameen government to implement Supreme Court order and described herself as “disturbed’ by actions of President. Will India take any steps to force the government to do the right thing?

Chinese don’t know how India is going to react. They want to test waters and see how far India will go in resolving the crisis and whether India will accept extra regional powers to intervene in her own backyard. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, "The international community should play a constructive role based on the principle of respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives instead of taking actions that may complicate the current situation". See the word 'sovereignty' here, it’s an indirect indication that others should not intervene.

Well if things go out of hand, China will make the situation to its advantage and entrench to Maldives forever. I think forcing Maldives government to conduct an independent election under the watch of foreign observers as early as possible  is the best thing which India and international community can do at this moment.



1. The Maldives’ political soap opera won’t end without judicial reform - JJ Robinson: The Guardian
2. Maldives Supreme Court Orders Release of All Opposition Leaders, President Yameen Defiant - The Wire
3. Nasheed: ‘India Has the Imagination and Tools to Get its Way With the Maldives Government’ - The Wire
4. China says international community should play constructive role in Maldives - Reuters
5. Chinese company bags Maldivian Island on 50-year lease - ET
6. Maldives gives airport contract to Chinese firm during Xi's visit - Reuters

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