As the Maldives battles a political crisis which could lead to serious geopolitical consequences, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Donald Trump have reportedly discussed the ongoing situation in the Indian Ocean archipelago. “Both leaders expressed concern about the political crisis in Maldives and the importance of respect for democratic institutions and rule of law,” the White House said in a readout of the phone call between Trump and Modi.
What is happening in the Maldives?
Last week, Maldives Supreme Court ordered the release of nine imprisoned opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. The island nation’s top court noted that their trials were “politically motivated and flawed”. Refusing to comply with the decision, incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 declared an Emergency for 15 days. The police also arrested two judges of the Supreme Court accusing Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and a second Supreme Court justice of taking millions of dollars in bribes in return for the court ruling.
“This Executive encroachment of Judicial powers is a blatant violation and completely erodes the doctrine of separation of powers,” said the statement in which lawyer Hisaan Hussain called for the Saeed’s immediate release.
The country’s former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was president from 1978 to 2008, was also arrested after being accused of trying to oust the government, run by his half brother.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter to Express | Nasheed’s call for India’s intervention very irresponsible, Emergency a necessity
Why is Mohammed Nasheed living in exile?
Mohamed Nasheed, one of the foremost political rivals of President Yameen, became the island nation’s first democratically elected president in 2008. His election marked the end of the autocratic 30-year rule of Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. However, in 2012, Nasheed was forced by police and army officers to resign “under gunpoint” over detention of a top judge. “Yes, I was forced to resign at gunpoint,” he was quoted as saying by BBC. “There were guns all around me and they told me they wouldn’t hesitate to use them if I didn’t resign.”
His resignation sparked protests in the Indian Ocean archipelago as thousands of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members and supporters took to streets. In 2015, Nasheed was convicted under terrorism charges and was sentenced to 13 years in prison for arresting Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed when he was in office. His trial became a cause of concern for India and US. Human rights organisations like the Amnesty also said that Nasheed’s conviction had been politically motivated.
Nasheed’s inclination towards pro-western foreign policy and his efforts to counter growing local Islamic conservatism have allowed his rivals to portray him as a threat to “traditional Islamic values”.
Nasheed writes for Express | Democracy is at stake in the Maldives, spectre of radical Islam looms large. India must act soon
What has India’s reaction been so far?
Following the imposition of Emergency in the Maldives, India said it was disturbed by the move and the political reasons that led to it. “We are disturbed by the declaration of a state of emergency in Maldives, following the refusal of the government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on February 1, and also by the suspension of constitutional rights of the people of Maldives. The arrest of the Supreme Court Chief Justice and political figures are also reasons for concern,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. However, government sources told The Indian Express that despite Nasheed’s call for intervention, India would not send troops on ground to sort the political crisis.
Appealing for India’s help, Nasheed, who heads the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and is based in Sri Lanka, said: “We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees, including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, from detention and to bring them to their homes. We are asking for a physical presence,” tweeted Nasheed who is still viewed in New Delhi as “immature” and “brash”.
“They want us to send warships and put boots on the ground, but we don’t want to be drawn into sending the military to sort out a political mess there,” sources said. Even just sending a special envoy was out of the question, sources said, as there was no guarantee that Yameen would engage with such a representative. Instead, they said, India is hoping to work together with a group of countries, including the US and Saudi Arabia, to bring pressure on the Yameen government through “sanctions”, if needed. Read more here.
However, India will be monitoring the situation in the Maldives “very closely” since it is likely to impact its standing in the Southasian region. Why?
The Yameen government is known to have friendly relations with China. Following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to the Maldives in 2014, the two countries signed multiple deals with Beijing participating in the infrastructure development in the archipelago. The Maldives is also a member in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative — a development strategy which has met with a certain resistance by India. In July 2015, Maldives had also passed an amendment to its constitution allowing foreign ownership of freehold land amid concerns that it could lead to increased Chinese military presence in the island nation. In December 2017, Maldives passed the Free Trade Agreement with China in the Maldivian parliament in a half-an-hour session which sent alarm bells ringing in New Delhi. This was Maldives’s first FTA with any country, and China’s second FTA with any country in South Asia — after Pakistan. Thus, the bilateral relations between China and the Maldives is likely to have serious consequences for India.
Reacting to the current political storm in the Maldives, China said it believes the Maldives government and people have the “wisdom and ability to appropriately handle the issue facing them and return the country to normal order in accordance with the law”.
“China does not interfere in the Maldives internal affairs, which is also an important criterion of the rules of the United Nations charter,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said. China supports the Maldives government to resolve differences via dialogue and consultation with all relevant sides, to protect the country’s independence and sovereignty, he added. “The international community should play a constructive role in promoting the Maldives’ stability and development on the basis of respecting the Maldives’ wishes,” Wang said. His reaction came after President Abdulla Yameen sent envoys to nations such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to brief them on the crisis. India does not appear in the list of those countries. Read more here.
Ambassador of Maldives to India, Ahmed Mohamed said: “The first stop of special envoy of the President was India. Foreign Minister of Maldives Dr. Mohamed Asim, the designated Special envoy of the President, was scheduled to be in India on February 8, but the visit was cancelled on the request of the Government of India.”