Politics in Maldives: Warning signs for Yameen?

The developments in Maldives could be the beginning of symptoms of cracks in the institutions of a nascent democratic state. The news of arrest of a former Prosecutor General Muhtahaz Muhsin and a judge Ahmed Nihan and subsequent release of Muhsin indicate the attempt of President Yameen to warn the judiciary that he is the only institution in Maldives. ny attempt to challenge his leadership will be met with severe reprimand. Will the judiciary withstand the Presidential onslaught or will it support democratic values and follow the processes of prosecution?

There are many take aways in this development. One, the President may have misused state funds and stacked them outside the country, which opposition got wind of. The document in question is available, the veracity of which needs to be established. The Magistrate, prima facie, observed the evidence to be sufficient enough to issue a arrest warrant against the President.

Second, the opposition MPs of the MDP, in absence of their leader Nasheed, have found an opportunity to assert themselves reminding President Yameen that MDP remains a credible opposition.

Third, it is reported that Nasheed has spoken to Brig. Zakariya Mansoor, of the Maldives National Defence Force, and advised him to follow the laws and constitution of the country.

This is a significant development. The said Brigadier has been sidelined by President Yameen in the hierarchy of the MNDF, suspected of being a Nasheed supporter. He is in charge of no significant appointment of Aviation Security in Maldives and possibly does not make important decisions of national importance. Yet, it signifies that Nasheed is attempting to garner hard power support within Maldives. It may be recalled, that during his own ouster from powerpolice personnel were observed agitating on the streets. Possibly due to their loyalty to the then opposition leader Yameen. Is the MNDF firmly behind Nashed? Or is it an attempt of Nasheed to send a message to the present President that he has enough penetration of supporters in the MNDF? This could be an important development for the future. It is obvious that Nasheed has adequate political support in the country; what he needs is backing of the MNDF or the Police, which enjoy more powers and may be an important factor in  restoring  his credible return. When President Yameen came to power, he arrested his Vice President and the Defence Minister and they are still languishing in prison. In Maldives, democracy being nascent, the equation between political support and backing of uniformed services plays decisive role which in itself is dangerous. The situation is further complicated by supremacy exercised by the police force which provides the handle to the President who misuses them for subverting democratic processes in the country.

Coming days will be significant, in that some purging in the MNDF and appointments of few pro-Yameen judges could be expected. Democracy is still a far cry. With the reports that young Maldivians are being radicalised and headed to Syria to fight alongside Daesh, this could be a sore thumb in the making in the Arabian Sea.


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.