As a political and constitutional crisis continues to unfold in Maldives, the opposition has requested India to intervene against President Yameen.
China has already spoken against any military intervention by India in the region. The escalating crisis in Maldives poses deep consequences to India, China and the Indian subcontinent.
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.
Mohamed Nasheed, one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was the first democratically elected president of the nation. 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. Nasheed 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 Nasheed 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.
This has resulted in an all-out political crisis in the region. The government has also arrested judges as part of its crackdown and has refused to release the political prisoners.
Ties between Maldives and its neighbor India have traditionally been friendly. The countries have been close in strategic, economic and military cooperation. India contributed to maintaining security on the island nation. Ties between China and Maldives were established at a later date in 1972. China has an embassy in Malé and the Maldives has an embassy in Beijing which opened in 2009. The Indian Government has expressed concern about the growing Chinese influence in the Maldives, including China's intention to set up military base in Marao.
The opposition parties in Maldives have officially requested India to intervene in the current Maldives situation. Mohamed Nasheed, a former president, has been leading the opposition from his exile in Sri Lanka. He stated, “On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: 1. India to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release judges and political detainees including President Gayoom. We request a physical presence. 2. The US to stop all financial transactions of Maldives regime leaders going through US banks.”
Meanwhile, China has said that it was against any military action from the Indian government. When asked to comment on Nasheed's call to India, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, "The international community should play a constructive role on the basis of respecting the Maldives' sovereignty instead of taking measures that could complicate the current situation."
“We are disturbed by the declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives, following the refusal of the government to abide by the unanimous ruling of the full bench of the Supreme Court on 1 February, and also by the suspension of constitutional rights,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said, when asked about the possibility of military intervention. In 1988, when the Maldives capital came under attack from a band of mercenaries, Indian paratroopers came to the rescue of the government and quickly restored order. India has often acted as a peacekeeper in the region historically.
Our assessment is that the crisis in Maldives has deep ramifications not only domestically but also internationally. It especially is of consequence to China and India. The ties between China and India have soured in 2017 after an extended military stand-off in Doklam. Additionally, India has become wary of China’s growing influence in the region, especially in Nepal. China has signalled that it plans on building artificial islands near Maldives, which has caused concern in Delhi. A Chinese base in the Maldives might upset the naval balance of the whole Indian Ocean, potentially threatening mainland India, as well as the nearby US base at Diego Garcia. How India tackles the political crisis in Maldives will indicate how it plans on countering China’s growing influence and ambitions for the region.
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