The recent events in Maldives beginning with the arrest and detention of Defence Minister Nazim on January 8 on grounds of plotting a coup and the subsequent arrest of former President Mohammed Nasheed on February 22 on terrorism charges indicate a growing tendency towards despotism by President Yameen. These two arrests come in a series of other high profile sackings, including that of the Health Minister, the Chief Justice and a brother Judge of the Supreme Court (impeached by the Majlis on charges of ‘gross misconduct’ without stating the nature of misconduct) and that of the Auditor General. All this within a year of Yameen’s coming to power substantiates the charge that the island nation is headed for a turbulent dictatorship. Turbulent because Yameen’s course will not be smooth and would be strongly opposed and resisted.
A closer examination of the charges against the prime accused would bear out the fact that President Abdulla Yameen Gayoom brooks no opposition and is intolerant of dissent. First, the two Judges, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan, were removed by the Majlis mainly because they were the only two judges that had not supported Yameen’s dubious accession to Presidency. A recall of the events of September to November 2014 presidential elections clearly demonstrate that Yameen’s victory was made possible only by the Judiciary repeatedly thwarting and subverting the mandate of the people who had twice voted overwhelmingly in favour Mohammed Nasheed.
Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim was removed on a technicality that the Audit Act predated the 2008 Constitution and thereby did not envisage current responsibilities of the post. The real reason was that he had released an incriminating report against Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheed, a close confidant of the President, implicating him in a corruption scandal of over $6 million.
As for Defence Minister Nazim, it was revealed that in an early morning raid on his house, the police found a pistol and three cartridges. They had also seized a pen drive that revealed certain incriminating documents. The prosecution contended that the documents show that Nazim was conspiring with opposition leader Gasim Ibrahim to harm senior government officials.
In a country where the defence forces have held a gun to the head of their Commander-in-Chief, President Nasheed in February 2012, the Defence Minister must have thought it wise to at least have a pistol and a couple of cartridges to face the unpredictable force that he was commanding. To suggest that he was plotting a coup with the meagre arms that he possessed appears a bit farfetched.
The real charge was that Nazim was getting close to Gasim Ibrahim (one of the richest businessmen in Maldives who had fallen out of favour with President Yameen after being a coalition partner from November 2013 to May 2014) and was plotting to undermine the present government. This may be difficult to prove in a court of law, for almost everyone in Maldives wants to be close to Gasim Ibrahim because he is so liberal with his money. Whether it is sending one’s child to a school in Bangalore or an aged parent for medical treatment to Trivandrum, it is to Gasim Ibrahim that the Maldivians turn to. His charity and generosity have earned him such a fervent following that his supporters caused a riot when the police turned up at his house after the raid on Nazim’s house on January 8. The government wisely decided to defer his arrest.
Then came the arrest of former President Nasheed on charges terrorism for reportedly ordering the arrest and detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Hameed in January 2012. Why was this arrest carried out after three years? Why was he not arrested before and convicted so that he could have been easily prevented from contesting the Presidential elections in 2013? That’s where India comes in.
Soon after the controversial coup in February 2012 that overthrew the first democratically elected President of Maldives Mohammed Nasheed, Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai had taken a commitment from the then President Waheed that Nasheed would not be imprisoned; free and fair elections would be held within 6 months and that Nasheed would be allowed to contest the elections. It is a different matter that Waheed did not stick to the election schedule but he ensured that Nasheed remained free to contest and campaign for the Presidential polls that were finally held from September to November 2013.
The fact that Nasheed emerged a clear leader with 45.45% of popular vote share as against Yameen’s 25.35% and Gasim Ibrahim’s 24.07% in the first round of elections on September 7 was a resounding indictment of the perpetrators of the coup. But they were not ready to accept the verdict of the people. Yameen and his elder step-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled Maldives for over 30 years, had other plans. First, they used the Judiciary to go on postponing the second round till Gasim was humbled to a distant third position and then persuaded (or arm-twisted) to support Yameen. After all, the shenanigans Yameen barely managed to secure 51.9% against Nasheed’s 48.6% in the final round held on November 16, 2013.
When the Maldivian Judiciary repeatedly interfered with the expression of popular mandate, India had issued a strong demarche by the then Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid calling “for holding the run-off elections as scheduled” and adding that “India was deeply disappointed and distressed with the postponement of the run-off”.
The Modi government has demonstrated a sharp sense of deeper engagement with the neighbours, right from the day of the swearing in of Prime Minister Modi. It was widely expected that he would exercise a more muscular foreign policy. Surprisingly, our official response to events in Male has been timid and even that has been rebuffed by the Foreign Minister of Maldives.
Is it too much to acknowledge some leaders in the neighborhood as our friends and stand by them?
(Ravi Joshi is a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation. He is a retired senior R&AW officer who had served in Maldives for three years on a diplomatic assignment)
Courtesy: Economic Times online edition, March 5, 2015.
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