Volume 22 Issue 4, April 2018

The Maldives, famous for its chain of atolls and considered to be a holiday destination for a number of tourists, has much more brewing than most visitors are ever exposed to. The country has experienced a debilitating government and fractious politics for years and now the image of the tourist heaven has been shattered by a major crackdown on dissent under Abdulla Yameen, who has overseen the imprisoning of almost all the political opposition.

The country, considered to be a paradise island for visitors, sunk into a political turmoil after the Maldivian Supreme Court’s decision called for the release of nine leading opposition politicians along with the exiled Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the country. It decided that their trials were politically inspired and defective. The result had a stunning effect on Yameen’s government as the decision was seen making way for Nasheed to end his self-imposed exile and return to the country to contest elections later this year. Celebrations on the streets of Malé were likewise observed as hundreds of Nasheed supporters came forward but were welcomed with clashes with the police who fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Tensions began to rise when Yameen rejected the orders and imposed a 15-day state of emergency, giving powers to troops to arrest individuals while detaining the powers of the legislature and the judiciary. Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, two Supreme Court judges and the chief judicial administrator were also arrested in the early hours of the day. In doing so, the government ignored all calls from the United States and the international community to respect the court’s verdict.

Although Yameen is all set to run for the elections with his opponents either being ousted or imprisoned, Nasheed has acknowledged his desire to be a candidate. Along with releasing the imprisoned persons, the Supreme Court has additionally ordered to reinstate 12 MPs who had changed loyalties to the opposition, which means that Yameen’s Progressive Party may lose its majority in the 85-member parliament and function as a negative tool towards the President.

Yameen has maintained a tight hold on his power as he had previously too confronted unsuccessful opposition attempts to accuse him of alleged corruption. However, each time Yameen was seen detaining members of the opposition. The country initially started to fall in 2013 when Yameen staged a coup and grabbed power from Nasheed who has been living in a state of banishment in Sri Lanka and the U.K. since then. Nasheed was banned from contesting any elections in the Maldives after the controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge widely criticised as politically motivated. Soon after the Supreme Court’s decision, Nasheed urged the government to release the dissenters and those serving jail sentences.

The crisis may appear to be between the Supreme Court and the government but it has prompted a conflict between India and China. Where India has deep historical, cultural and economic relations with the Maldives, China has invested a lot through economic means for its Belt and Road Initiative along with developing mega infrastructures projects. Other than the 1988 intervention, India has maintained a distance with the Maldives and any involvement would risk raising the rivalry again with China. Nasheed has also turned to the international community to remove Yameen from office and has called for the UK and US to freeze the financial transactions of the Maldivian government officials.

The Maldives Parliament has disregarded the growing concern of international countries and calls for democracy to be restored in the islands. India too has shown great dismay over the Maldivian government. Meanwhile, the US has called for self-control.

Being in power since 2013 and facing elections later this year, Yameen is under a great deal of pressure to take notice of the Supreme Court decision while hundreds of protestors have taken to the country’s streets to demand compliance with the order. Notwithstanding several warnings, political tensions are probably going to increase in the country soon. Protests and transportation disruption are also possible, especially in Malé. People in the country are encouraged to monitor developments, avoid all protests and demonstrations as precautionary measures and to follow all guidelines issued by the local authorities.

The current instability in the Maldives will indeed affect the country at large as the latest turmoil had come in the midst of the peak season for the tropical islands. Due to the worsening conditions of the country, China’s foreign ministry had issued a notice advising the Chinese citizens to abstain from going to the Maldives until the point when political tensions die down in the country. India, Australia and the United States have also issued advisories against travelling to the country where political strains appear to keep on increasing.

The writer is a member of the staff with a special interest in social issues and showbiz..

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