Political crisis has Maldives on razor’s edge
MALE IT WAS an ordinary blue felt pen, and not a bullet, that killed Mohamed Nasheed’s term as the first democratically elected president of the Maldives.
After rising to acclaim as a champion of democracy and action against climate change, Nasheed is now back on the streets where he led a nearly two-decade campaign to bring full democracy to an archipelago ruled more like a sultanate.
His country, best-known as the Indian Ocean’s top fivestar beach destination, is now on a political knife edge amid fears of mass protests, so far peaceful, could spark a crackdown and take the Maldives back to its authoritarian past.
The circumstances around his exit three years after a historic 2008 election victory over President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, which at once removed Asia’s longest-serving ruler and ushered in its newest democracy, remain hotly contested.
Nasheed says a cabal of former regime strongmen conspired with opposition leaders to force him to make a choice: resign in two hours, or face the introduction of live ammunition into a duel between loyal and rebelling security forces, then only being fought with batons and rubber bullets.
“The generals were in league with the mutinous police,” Nasheed said at a recent news conference, acknowledging that he had erred in not clearing out officers loyal to Gayoom.
“We never did a purge of the military. We have a history of murdering our former leaders and I wanted to change that.” His erstwhile vice-president, now President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, says Nasheed stepped down voluntarily after defying the democratic institutions he helped bring to life. Waheed maintains his ascendancy was constitutional.
A Commonwealth team of ministers on Wednesday suspended the Maldives from its democracy watchdog group and urged new elections this year to end any questions over whether the transfer of power was lawful.
Nasheed’s swift exit began with a January 16 order to the military to arrest the top criminal court judge, whom he accused of blocking multi-million- dollar graft cases against allies of Gayoom.
Three weeks of nightly protests by a few hundred opposition demonstrators, orchestrated by Gayoom’s new Progressive Party of the Maldives and its allies, ensued and climaxed on February 7
Already, Nasheed’s liberal Islamic policies and overtures to Israel had given opponents a hammer to bash him with vitriolic Islamist rhetoric, which increasingly has an ear among some of the Maldives’ Sunni Muslim population of 330,000.
Nasheed later defied a Supreme Court order to free the judge and defended his action as essential to breaking Gayoom’s stranglehold on the judiciary.
That fuelled the opposition protests and sparked rebukes from friendly nations, and even from inside his Maldivian Democratic Party.