On the 20th of February, the Maldivian Parliament voted in favour of extending the state of emergency. The country has been in a state of emergency since the 5th of this month, when President Yameen ignored a Supreme Court ruling and arrested senior members of the judiciary and opposition.
The decision to extend the emergency came hours after India issued a statement recommending a return to the rule of law. India has been called on by opposition leaders to intervene in the crisis.
The Maldives is an island nation located to the south-west of India in the Indian Ocean. The archipelago is an Islamic republic made up of almost 1,200 islands, only 198 inhabited. The official language in the Maldives is Dhivehi, and the largest ethnic group are Dhivehis. The Maldives is the smallest country in Asia, with a population of approximately 3,90,000. Local populations are primarily dependant on tourism, fishing, and shipping. The tourist industry is a key source of income for the development of infrastructure and technology.
Mohamed Nasheed was one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party and the country’s first democratically elected president. He was ousted from power in 2012, in what he described as a coup. Three years later, the country’s highest court convicted him on charges of terrorism in a ruling that was condemned by the United Nations. He is currently in exile in Sri Lanka.
On the 1st of February 2018, the Maldivian Supreme court threw out the “terrorism” conviction against Nasheed and reinstated 12 opposition MPs. Current President Abdulla Yameen refused to comply with the judgement. The Yameen government declared a 15-day state of emergency on the 5th of February, when security forces stormed the Supreme Court and arrested the chief justice and other senior members of the judiciary. Opposition leaders were also arrested.
The international community, including the US and India, has condemned Yameen’s actions. Former President Nasheed issued a public plea for India to intervene in the Maldives. On the same day, the Chinese foreign ministry warned that the international community should remain uninvolved. “The international community should play a constructive role based on respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, instead of taking actions that may complicate the situation,” they said.
The state of emergency was supposed to expire on the 20th of this month. President Yameen had proposed the extension on Monday, due to the ongoing “constitutional crisis”. The opposition boycotted the vote.
A joint opposition statement released on the 20th condemned Yameen’s actions over the past three weeks. They claimed that the 38 MPs who passed approval did not meet the constitutionally mandated minimum. According to Maldivian law, 43 out of 85 MPs are required to be present to vote on matters of public compliance.
Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih stated, “President Yameen failed to muster the required number of votes to pass his emergency legislation. And so Yameen has ratified and extended the emergency illegally… President Yameen has, in effect, hijacked the entire state and is ruling the Maldives like a military dictator.” He declared the state of emergency “illegal, and void”, while demanding the release of political prisoners and the reinstatement of the Supreme Court ruling.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs also released a statement on Tuesday, before the extension was announced. “It is our expectation that the Government of Maldives will not be seeking extension of the State of Emergency so that the political process in Maldives can resume with immediate effect,” the statement read. India encouraged the restoration of democratic processes in the state, including a fair and independent judiciary, adding, “It is important that Maldives quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law.”
Meanwhile, former President Nasheed, who visited Indian Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday, told the Hindu that Yameen is “ruling down the barrel of a gun”. He said that the current events in the Maldives are completely illegitimate. Nasheed has also expressed concerns regarding the proliferation of ISIS-linked radical ideology. Additionally, he believes that the Chinese are grabbing land in the islands. Beijing holds 70% of Maldives’ international debt.
The former President urged India to act immediately to mitigate the crisis.
Our assessment is that a Maldives in crisis does not bode well for the stability of the region. We believe that a restoration of the rule of law would be the first step towards addressing the numerous problems the country is facing. Unless there is either a military coup or external intervention, it is unlikely that Yameen will relinquish power. India’s suggestions have gone unheeded thus far. Will India take further action to address what could be a serious security threat in the Indian Ocean?