U-Turn by Yameen: But Why?

In a surprise 180 degrees turn, the Maldives government declared on January 16th that the former President Nasheed who is serving 13 year jail term under concocted charges of terror, will be permitted to proceed to the United Kingdom for spinal cord surgery. The attached condition is to complete his remaining sentence after returning from the surgery.                                      

There has been hectic diplomatic activity in Male over the last week. Foreign Secretary of India, Mr. S. Jaishankar, paid a visit to Male followed by his discussion at Colombo.  He was probably aware that the Pakistan Foreign Secretary dialogue may not go through in the wake of Pathankot incident. Probably, the release of Nasheed was high on his agenda during discussions at Male. India has advocated for a stable democracy in Maldives, in which a credible opposition is an invariably essential ingredient. President Yameen, to large extent, has silenced the voices of dissent by arresting his own Vice President Adeeb and Defence Minister Nazim. There has been a number of demonstrations for their release, which President Yameen has effectively suppressed.

Visit by Secretary Jaishankar to Colombo was short, possibly to use the Sri Lankan influence on President Yameen for the release of Nasheed in order to stabilise democracy in Maldives. The follow up visit of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samarawrera to Male and quick decision of President Yameen to permit Nasheed to proceed to the UK for surgery is indicative of the purpose of these two visits. India, as the largest democracy of the world, has a vested interest in a stable neighborhood for peace and prosperity of South Asia. Prime Minister Modi’s initiative towards Pakistan, and his decision to continue the comprehensive dialogue, though delayed, displays that intention. Maldives democracy is nascent after nearly three decades of autocracy. Therefore any mistake would slip this country back to ‘Gayoom-cracy’ again. With growing radicalisation and evidence that Maldives youth are participating in the ISIS movement, India is really concerned. The Home Ministry in India has indicated its apprehension on permitting e-visas to Maldivians. This is due to the evidence of radicalisation, which may lead some to misuse this facility and use India as their staging post to fulfil their goals.

Will Nasheed accept this offer of being released to go for treatment? Was the visit of Indian Foreign Secretary and Sri Lankan Foreign Minister limited to request for allowing Nasheed to go for treatment? This will be the wrong time for Nasheed to leave Maldives. His absence will take all pressure off the President who has demonstrated only autocratic behaviour so far. Nasheed is in a position to bargain for more and therefore settling for trip to UK for treatment would be detrimental to the future of Maldives. And Nasheed is probably aware of these variables. This may provide an opportunity to President Yameen for a much stronger grip on the opposing voices in Maldives. With a weak judiciary, the recipe may be right for democracy’s infanticide in Maldives.