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The Maldives in trouble

  • Published at 06:07 pm December 5th, 2015
The Maldives in trouble

September 28: A dazzling, bright day as President Yameen’s speedboat approached the main jetty of the capital Male -- an explosion occurred. Yameen was unscathed, but three persons, including his wife, sustained minor injuries.

Suspicious, intolerant, and dictatorial Yameen immediately suspected an assassination attempt. The FBI investigation found “no conclusive evidence” of a bomb blast caused by an “improvised explosive device” in the debris of the blast, only remnants of the speedboat.

Nevertheless, former President Nasheed, a prisoner of conscience and renowned climate change advocate, was sent back to jail, just a month after his 13-year jail sentence was commuted to house arrest, thereby fueling unrest among his supporters. Nasheed’s trial under a new anti-terrorism law had been a farce, and the 13-year sentence was both arbitrary and disproportionate.

Yameen came to power in September 2013 by violating Articles 107, 262, and 268 of the constitution. His repressive regime gave immense discretionary authority to the judiciary puppets of Yameen.

A month after the speedboat blast, Yameen declared an unprecedented state of emergency, two days prior to a planned demonstration by former President Nasheed’s MDP. All types of protests were banned and the police empowered to undertake raids and arrests of protestors without any court order.

The US cautioned the government of Maldives that this state of emergency and provisions in the recently enacted anti-terrorism law were being used against political opponents.

International human rights groups, the US, the UK, the EU, and the Commonwealth questioned the government’s rationale for declaring a state of emergency and strongly urged restoration of constitutional rights.

Yameen lifted the nation-wide state of emergency after only six days, not because of the world’s concern, but because it negatively impacted on the lucrative tourism industry.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, who had also been present in the speedboat on the day of the blast, was accused of “dereliction of duty.”

A day after the declaration of emergency, the parliament (Majlis) hastily declared that the vice president should be impeached, without providing Adeeb any opportunity to defend himself.

In a yet another arbitrary move, the parliament abruptly removed Prosecutor General (PG) Muhtaz in a speedy vote. Media reports stated that the PG was disinclined to charge the vice president of bribery without concrete evidence. This sacking again raised criticism from international organisations, local NGOs, and the opposition party.

Nikhil Narayan, from the International Commission of Jurists, stated that sacking of the Prosecutor General was a “clear violation of the international principles of separation of powers enshrined in both international law and the constitution of Maldives.”

He further added that “the PG’s office is an independent constitutional body under Maldives constitution. The PG must be allowed to carry out his legitimate constitutional mandate without arbitrary political interference or intimidation by other branches.”

The ruling party’s MPs claimed that the PG had leaked confidential documents. The PG informed the press that the speaker refused to accept a letter from him seeking to defend himself at a committee meeting open to the public.

Everything happened too fast, and he was sacked within 11 hours after the government decided to remove him. The Majlis’ sitting was held at midnight with only the ruling party’s MPs. 

Simultaneously, Nasheed’s supporters were being harassed even in peaceful protests. They were cordoned off, pepper sprayed, and arrested. Many had to be hospitalised.

The UN Working Group on arbitrary detention stated that former president Nasheed did not receive a fair trial. Hollywood star George Clooney’s wife, lawyer Amal Clooney, who is defending Nasheed, has received support from the UN as well as other countries in her fight for Nasheed, whose fundamental rights were severely violated.          

Finding no allies in the Western world, President Yameen has increasingly turned to China and Saudi Arabia for support. A growing trend of Islamic conservatism is resulting in insularity intolerance and militancy at home and abroad.

The educational curriculum contains stories glorifying the youth joining jihadist groups, thereby negatively influencing impressionable minds. Women’s rights have reached rock bottom. The situation seems to get worse and worse.   

The events in the Maldives are dramatic. People feel that they are caught in a Bollywood soap opera as each scene unfolds in an unexpected and unbelievable episode while their young population, bored in Male’s cramped surroundings and under the influence of drugs, embraces religious extremism. A beautiful country with enchanting resorts is turning into a police state. 

With tourism making it the most prosperous of the South Asian countries, Maldives is geo-politically important due to its strategic location in the Indian Ocean on the shipping routes between Asia and the West. 

Both China and India are vying for influence and maritime dominance. India has set the Indian Ocean as a foreign policy priority to contest China expansionism.

Modi has declared that India will play a positive role in the security of island states to shape the “region’s security architecture.”

India’s increasing energy demands mean it is dependent on the Indian Ocean for both energy and trade.

Over 90% of India’s foreign trade by volume and 77% in value terms is seaborne, amounting to a third of its GDP.

Countering the Chinese term “String of Pearls” in the Indian Ocean, India has coined SAGAR (Ocean in Hindi) meaning “Security and Growth of All in the Region.”

Since India’s 2013 “Trilateral Maritime Security Agreement” with Sri Lanka and the Maldives, New Delhi has been seeking a more co-operative stance with them and other island states.

Accordingly, India has agreed to establish “a maritime domain awareness network” radar system in island states, with the largest number of radars in the Maldives.

Vietnam and Japan are similarly seen as strategic partners in the Pacific region. 

It is significant that the Indian Navy’s main drive for increasing its capabilities is China’s assertive policy and expansion of influence in the Indian Ocean.

India’s caution regarding maritime issues with China was clearly evident in the joint statement at the end of Modi’s visit to China in May 2015.

It made no reference to maritime collaboration or to Asia Pacific security. It also did not refer to China’s “One Belt One Road” (OBOR) or the “Maritime Silk Road,” both of which India distrusts. 

By contrast, India-US joint strategic vision statement included a section emphasising “the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over-flight throughout the region, especially in South China Sea.” This is an agreement to counter Beijing’s handling of “conflicting regional territorial claims.”  

Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean is great and increasing while India is responding by promoting security relationships with its maritime neighbours and island states. Maldives is a critical partner for both China and India.

One has to wait and see how this develops. Will either of the two major powers also come forward to try to ensure good, stable governance in the Maldives?