The buildup to the newest political upset that has rocked the island nation of Maldives can be traced back to a court order on the 1st of February. The supreme court of Maldives ordered for the release of all political prisoners and also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been sacked for defecting to the opposition. The President Abdulla Yameen’s refusal to comply to this ruling, which crippled his authority, precipitated in the declaration of a state of emergency under article 253 of the constitution of Maldives on the 5th of February 2018 for the next fifteen days. The emergency gave the president sweeping powers to appoint new judges and gave the security forces the authority to arrest and hold suspects and prohibit public gatherings.
The ten hours that followed the declaration of emergency saw the arrests of the supreme court chief justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the president’s half-brother, and the former dictator was another prominent personality to be arrested. The supreme court buckled under the undue pressure from the government and reversed its rulings. Meanwhile, Mohamed Nasheed, the former president, currently in exile, and other leaders of the opposition have appealed to India and the international community at large, to put a stop to the vagrant violation of democratic principles and civil liberties in the Maldives. The international community has unitedly taken a stand condemning the actions of the president Abdulla Yameen, declaring it as unconstitutional, with India, China, and the US issuing travel advisories, warnings, against traveling to the Maldives. The United Nations along with the governments of India and the US have urged the president to respect the court order.
The small island nation, regarded as a tourists’ paradise, hides a dark past of dictatorship, dissent and political turbulence. The Maldives had become a republic in 1968. In 1978, the presidential post was won over by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who remained in power for the next 30 years.In the decades that followed, Gayoom won six consecutive elections. He was followed by Mohamed Nasheed who became Maldives’ first democratic president. His tenure marked the beginning of a period of shaky democracy. He was ousted from power and was succeeded by the current president Abdulla Yameen in 2013. From the very start, his intolerance to the political opposition was evident as he clamped down and incarcerated all the prominent members of the opposition. He had previously declared an emergency in 2015 and the leader of opposition former president Nasheed was charged on the grounds of terrorism and exiled. He sought asylum in Britain. Several other leaders of the opposition were also arrested and detained.It was the reversal of these political convictions including that of Mohamed Nasheed that formed the central subject of the supreme courts pertinent ruling on the first of February. This would have allowed Mohamed Nasheed to compete in the following presidential elections and the restoration of 12 lawmakers would have caused Abdulla Yameen to lose the majority in the legislature, which may have emerged as a rival to the president’s power.
It is evident that by imposing the emergency, The president intends to cling to his position and power backed by the military. His misemployment of the power entrusted to him and the subsequent declaration of emergency has proved to be the death knell of the infant democracy that had bloomed on this island paradise.
As a close neighbor and a fellow democracy, India has the obligation to step in and work to restore order in the Maldives. While silence is no longer an option, the precise nature of how India will respond to the crisis in the Maldives remains a question worth debating upon.
“In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court,” the External Affairs said in a statement. The only time India had actively intervened in the Maldives was in 1988, as a part of operation ‘Cactus’ which was aimed at quashing a coup led by a ragtag bunch of terrorists. But that was at the request of the then president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The circumstances prevailing now being very different in nature, an armed response has been ruled out.
India cannot afford to alienate the leadership of Maldives, it being a region of utmost strategic importance to India, from the perspective of security. Taking into account all these subtle nuances, the most viable course of action for India would be to impose sanctions to bring pressure on the government to restore democracy. India has a considerable leverage on this front, being the source of most of the imported items and a popular destination for higher education and medical facilities. However, any sanctions imposed would lead to widespread public suffering, and this option is to be used with discretion.
Given the volatile and dire nature of the events unfolding in Malé, the onus is on the international community to respond to the need of the hour and work to restore law and order, protect the independence of the jury and the well being of the citizens and restore the democracy that has been blatantly reduced to shambles.
By Krishnadev Menon