On the 1st of February, the Maldivian Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that the 2015 conviction of former President Naseed and 8 other leaders was unconstitutional. Incumbent administration has refused to acknowledge the ruling. On Monday evening (5th February), the Maldivian government declared a 15-day state of emergency and arrested senior members of the judiciary and opposition.
The international community has expressed concern at the situation and ex-President Nasheed has issued a request for India to intervene.
The South Asian island nation of Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, gained independence from colonial rule in 1965. Three years later, in March 1968, the country voted to become a republic. The first multi-party democratic elections held in the Maldives took place in 2008, following a constitutional referendum in 2007. Then- President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had ruled the nation for 30 continuous years (since 1978) supported the institution of direct presidential elections.
Mohamed Nasheed, one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was the first democratically elected president of the nation. He assumed office on 11th November 2008 after winning by a small margin. Prior to his Presidency, Nasheed was known for his activism, particularly in pressuring the Gayoom regime towards political reform.
However, Nasheed’s government did not hold a parliamentary majority, resulting in a situation where policies were repeatedly blocked by the Parliament and Judiciary. Nasheed claimed that “many judges remained under the effective control of the former regime”. In 2010, Nasheed's 12 cabinet ministers resigned, protesting the behaviour of opposition MPs who they said were “hijacking” the powers of the executive.
In 2011, peaceful protests broke out against the administration due to their perceived ineffective governance. The situation escalated in February 2012 and Nasheed resigned after the protests turned violent and military and opposition forces joined in. He later said that he was forced to resign with a “gun held to his head” in what he described as a coup.
Nasheed was succeeded by Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of former President Gayoom and member of the Progressive Party, after a highly contested election. He took office in November 2013.
In 2015, Nasheed was convicted on charges of terrorism and was sentenced to 13 years in prison after being found guilty. At the time, the UN condemned this judgement. Nahseed was granted political asylum in the UK in 2016. He is currently in exile in Sri Lanka.
On the 1st of this month, the Maldivian Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that the 2015 conviction of former President Naseed and 8 other leaders was unconstitutional. Additionally, the court ordered the release and reinstatement of 12 opposition MPs. This would give the opposition a majority in parliament. The current administration refused to comply and on Sunday (4th February) issued a statement that they would also resist any effort by the Supreme Court to impeach the President. There were protests by opposition supporters that weekend in the capital, Male.
On Monday evening (5th February), the Yameen government declared a 15-day state of emergency. The Supreme Court ruling “has resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest,” said Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor. The emergency places restrictions on certain rights, however the President assured citizens that “services and businesses will not be affected”. Constitutionally, the President is required to gain Parliamentary approval regarding the declaration within 48 hours.
Soon after, security forces reportedly stormed the Supreme Court. It was announced early Tuesday morning (6th February) that Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed Mohamed, chief justice Abdullah Saeed, and chief judicial administrator Hassan Saeed Hussain have been arrested. Maumoon Gayoom, now a member of the opposition, had also expressed support for the Supreme Court ruling, and was arrested. More opposition MPs are expected to be arrested.
The international response
The international response has largely been to convey support for the Supreme Court’s decision and Maldivian citizens.
“Despite being elected in 2013 with the support of a broad coalition, President Yameen has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected Members of Parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature, revised laws to erode human rights, especially freedom of expression, and weakened the institutions of government by firing any officials who refuse orders that run contrary to Maldivian law and its Constitution,” the US State Department said, in a recent statement.
American, UK, Indian, and Australian governments, as well as the UN and EU, have issued pleas to the government to respect the rule of law and implement the Supreme Court ruling. Several governments have also issued warnings to tourists in the region.
There have been questions surrounding India’s role in the current crisis in Male. Former President Nasheed, on Tuesday morning, issued a plea on twitter to the Indian government to intervene in the situation. His request, on “behalf of the Maldivian people” was for “India to send an envoy, backed by its military” to release judges and other political detainees such as Gayoom. He emphasised: “We request a physical presence.” Nasheed also asked US banks to block the financial transactions of current leaders.
If India does choose to intervene, this will not have been the first time. In 1988, Indian troops responded to an appeal from then President Gayoom, to oust a group of mercenaries and end a coup in the capital Male.
As stated previously, our assessment is that political uncertainty in the Maldives has resulted in the erosion of the nascent democracy in the region. We believe that a restoration of the rule of law, and an observance of judicial rulings are essential to uphold the stability of the state. While it is not yet clear whether India will intervene in the current crisis, doing so would be an assertion of its status as a regional power, which will bring with it its own consequences. Meanwhile, the situation will most likely have a negative impact on the economy and tourism in the country.