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In exile, former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed vows to come back soon

Mohammed Nasheed said he believed “India is very, very, aware that democratic institutions must be strengthened in all Indian Ocean countries for the stability of the Indian Ocean region”.

Written by Nirupama Subramanian
Chandigarh | Updated: September 6, 2016 8:10:57 am
Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, Nasheed, Maldives President Nasheed, Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed, Maldives news, India news Nasheed made these guarded comments on competing interests in the Indian Ocean region to The Indian Express on Sunday from Colombo. (Source: File)

President Abdulla Yameen of the Maldives is threatening the stability of the Indian Ocean region by making the country increasingly dependent on a single country, his political opponent and former president Mohammed Nasheed has said.

Not denying he was referring to China, Nasheed said he believed “India is very, very, aware that democratic institutions must be strengthened in all Indian Ocean countries for the stability of the Indian Ocean region”.

Nasheed made these guarded comments on competing interests in the Indian Ocean region to The Indian Express on Sunday from Colombo, his first interview after he secretly arrived in Sri Lanka from the UK in August, fuelling speculation that it was a prelude to the imminent ouster of President Yameen by the Maldivian opposition.

The Maldivian government had said it was aware of a “coup” plot, and last week issued arrest warrants for Nasheed and two other leaders of the Maldivian United Opposition. A ruling party parliamentarian accused Sri Lanka of “harbouring” coup plotters.

In an indication that the plan, if one existed, is on hold for now, Nasheed returned to the UK on Monday, but said he hoped to “come back again very soon, within the next few months” and travel to his country. “There are a number of things that have to happen and we are working on them.”

President Yameen’s position had become “untenable”, Nasheed said, and “there’s every reason to believe a transitional arrangement can be made that will have a unity government” until elections in 2018. Such an arrangement would comprise the Maldivian Democratic Party and other opposition parties, now banded together as the Maldivian United Opposition, along with ruling party dissidents led by Maumoon Gayoom, half-brother of President Yameen.

“How exactly this will be triggered, the modalities of how exactly we will migrate to a transitional government, are under discussion, but we will not want to depart from peaceful politics. We don’t have violent political coups in the Maldives,” he said, but he also pointed out that “it has not always been through the ballot either”, as had happened with his removal in 2012. “But what we want to see is a democratic arrangement, a democratic government in the Maldives.”

He said impeachment was “a tall order” because it requires two-thirds parliamentary support. Earlier, his associates have said they wanted Yameen arrested for alleged corruption, but Nasheed said he did not want to discuss details of any of the Opposition’s plans.

Though he and Gayoom have been political adversaries, Nasheed said of their new partnership: “We have always understood democracy to be the best path of development and a better life. We’ve always advocated that, and when we see Gayoom on the same page as us, it would be very foolhardy of us to turn around and go.”

Justifying the Opposition’s moves to remove an elected President, Nasheed said the Yameen government had turned into a one-party rule and “regressed from every single legislation” prescribed in the new Constitution of 2008, made defamation a criminal offence, and changed almost all financial laws. “And the list goes on. He’s arrested most of the opposition. Not only that, he has carried out a purge in his own party, arresting his vice president, the defence minister,” Nasheed said.

Asked if India had reached out to him in his efforts against Yameen, Nasheed’s response was cryptic: “I believe that taking a stand about the affairs in the Maldives is not necessarily taking a side. The stance that India takes does not have to be a side that it takes.”

Nasheed said he was aware India was observing the situation in the Maldives, an atoll with a population of about 400,000 people, where India has warily watched China’s clout increase over the last two years. “We have emerging economic powers incursion into our affairs to a very large extent. We are increasingly going into debt… and specifically the amount we would owe to a single country is something that is untenable for us. And these situations can create very volatile outcomes. And I think all regional powers, and international powers must be aware of this.”

Nasheed’s own wooing of China also worried India when he was president, but he said “our democratic credentials and the kind of friends we want to maintain is clear…”

The opening of the Chinese Embassy in Male the day prime minister Manmohan Singh arrived for the 2011 SAARC “was not timed’, said Nasheed, “to give a message to anyone. It was a story that everyone got wrong. We were perhaps naïve in doing that.”

Sri Lanka did not acknowledge Nasheed’s arrival officially, but found the gaze on it uncomfortable after the Maldivian government issued warrants for Nasheed and two others.

Nasheed said he had travelled on a valid visa and passport, and done “nothing wrong” in Sri Lanka. “We are very mindful of the hospitality of the Sri Lankan people and the government and we wouldn’t want to antagonise the Sri Lankan government.”

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