With President Yameen Abdul Gayoom yet to implement the court verdict ordering the release of nine political prisoners, including the democratically elected former president Mohammed Nasheed, the island nation faces the possibility of an emergency that will plunge it deeper into a crisis.
Jailed in 2016 on charges of terrorism, Mr Nasheed has since then lived in Britain after travelling there on medical leave from prison. Shortly after his release, the former president announced his decision to contest elections, unsettling Mr Yameen’s plan of running for re-election virtually unopposed with most of his opponents behind bars or in exile. The court also reinstated 12 opposition Members of Parliament, who had been disqualified during a combined opposition attempt to impeach Yameen in 2016.
With anti-government protestors demanding the removal of Mr Yameen, Attorney General Mohamed Anilhas warned against any attempt by the Supreme Court to order the impeachment of the president. He maintained that the president can be ousted only through a vote in parliament and no “illegitimate set of people” have the right to make such a decision.
India has urged the Maldivian government to “respect and abide” by the ruling and restore law and order. With President Gayoom firing the country’s police chief for the latter’s support of the court decision, the capital Male erupted in protests that lasted for about three hours. India has been a severe critic of the authoritarian rule of Mr Gayoom’s government, which has stalled democratic reforms and has deepened its control of the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy.
The court ruling of February 1 came as a welcome surprise for those who long for a return to democratic rule. The opposition alliance has called for Mr Gayoom’s resignation, stating that the ruling “effectively ends President Yameen’s authoritarian rule.” Declaring its support for a “stable, peaceful and prosperous Maldives”, India’s Ministry of External affairs in its statement expressed concern regarding the safety and security of the Indian expatriates living on the island nation.
Two lawmakers from among the 12 who were reinstated were arrested by the police on February 3 upon their arrival from overseas. Throughout the weekend, military personnel kept a tight guard around the parliament building, preventing lawmakers from entering. “We are working on making sure we can respect the Supreme Court’s order in a way that doesn’t cause any difficulties to the people,” Mr Yameen said during a rally organized by his party even as he has declared a war against the judges.There have been reports that his administration is looking to sack Supreme Court judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, by filing false cases against them.
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