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How the Maldivian President provoked 4 opposition leaders to make a collective stand

Ravi Joshi | Updated on: 28 March 2017, 18:38 IST
(File photo)

In events that are unfolding at a very fast pace, the island country of Maldives is witnessing an extraordinary revival of the people’s fight against the dictatorship of President Abdullah Gayoom Yameen. 

In a truly historic sense, a most improbable combination of leaders was launched as a united coalition on 24th March to form the Maldives United Opposition (MUO) to fight the tyranny and corruption of President Yameen.

Strange bedfellows

The fact that President Yameen’s elder brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (President of the Progressive Party), who was the longest ruling President, joined hands with former President Mohamed Nasheed (President of Maldivian Democratic Party) and a former coalition partner in Yameen’s government and a senior minister in his cabinet, Qasim Ibrahim (leader of Jumhoree Party) along with another former coalition partner – Sheikh Imran Abdulla (President of the Adhaalath Party), speaks volumes about the sense of desperation that prevails in the country.  

They agreed to work together, with the express intention of restoring Maldivian democracy, ensuring free and fair elections, and protecting Maldivians’ Constitutional rights.

A common political vision

The declaration states, among other things, that the four leaders and their parties will work together in order to:

  • Safeguard the tenets of Islam, independence, sovereignty and nationalism
  • Protect ownership of the land, sea and natural resources belonging to the country
  • Find a resolution to the political discord afflicting the country
  • Safeguard civil and political rights abrogated from citizens
  • Ensure elections held in the Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political parties choosing are allowed to contest; (this is a direct reference to Mohd. Nasheed’s claim as he is the obvious choice for his party and that the false cases in which he is implicated shall not debar him)
  • Secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial, or convicted of politically motivated charges
  • Prevent corruption and embezzlement within the government 

The four leaders signed a declaration setting out a common political vision for the Maldives and agreed to use their representation in parliament and in the political sphere to achieve the common objectives.

The provocation

What is the provocation for four such diverse leaders coming from such different political and ideological shades, who have had different linkages to and experiences in dealing with President Yameen, for coming together to overthrow him now? 

Nasheed and Qasim Ibrahim have suffered directly in the hands of the capricious President who has always felt threatened by their popularity - which was manifestly much higher than his own in the elections of 2013.

It was former President Nasheed who decided to accept defeat in a repeatedly manipulated popular verdict in 2013 (by a partisan judiciary that kept nullifying the vote till it was in Yameen’s favour). He was then put behind bars on trumped up charges of ‘terrorism’ in March 2015, till he managed to get out to London on medical grounds in early 2016.

He was later granted asylum in the UK and is presently coordinating events in the Maldives from neighbouring Sri Lanka.

Political vendetta

Qasim Ibrahim, who initially supported President Yameen after elder Maummon Abdul Gayoom beseeched him in 2013, joined the cabinet as Finance Minister and then deserted him within a year as he could not suffer the indignities heaped upon him by the haughty and ‘power-crazed’ President. 

Later when he came out in support of Nasheed’s utterly untenable incarceration in early 2015, the home of his close friend and former defence minister was raided and the friend arrested as a sign of warning to Qasim Ibrahim. 

Unable to quell his popularity, Yameen decided to hurt his enormous business empire and imposed a fine of $100 million for allegedly not developing some of the islands allotted to him for tourism purposes and thereby causing loss to the State. 

The fact this fine had more to do with Qasim Ibrahim’s meeting with Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena was not lost on anyone. Qasim Ibrahim was finally let off when he made a deal with the then vice president (who was known to be the money bag for President Yameen) and gave an undertaking to quit politics. 

Not content with this, the President introduced a legislation in Parliament fixing an upper age limit that would automatically debar Qasim Ibrahim from the next Presidential elections in 2018.

A series of arbitrary acts

Latest in the series of arbitrary acts was the report of proposed sale/lease of Fafu Atoll to the members of the Saudi Royal family which was to be inked during the visit of Saudi King Salman to Male on April 1. 

The visit was suddenly postponed due to the unexpected intensity of protests led by the MDP and the United Opposition. It was an unguarded comment from a ruling party MP which leaked the deal that was negotiated without any discussion in the Parliament to the media.          

Next was the repeated postponement of Local Council Elections (now postponed three times) that was scheduled for May 5.

On 27 March, several members of the Opposition were bodily lifted out of the House by the Army

The latest delay has been caused by the revolt within the ruling PPP family which has not been able to get enough councillors to contest now that the president of the party (PPM) has thrown his lot with the Opposition and his son Faaris Maumoon has moved the no-confidence motion against the Speaker of the House. 

This motion, which taken up for vote on 27 March, saw the unprecedented sight of the Army men coming in plainclothes into the House and bodily lifting Opposition members out of the House. The No-Confidence Motion was defeated by brutal force.

The fact that President Yameen has lost all his coalition partners in the House and that he had to rely on the Army to throw out the Opposition shows how desperate the situation is.

Anti-India policies

From the day he took office in November 2013, President Yameen has been no friend of India. 

One of his first acts was to cancel the airport construction contract awarded to the Indian Company, GMR, by the earlier government. The second was his declaration to join the ‘Maritime Silk Route’ later christened as the ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative of President Xi Jenping of China and his decision to allocate islands to China for building a naval base close to the southern tip of India. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi showed his displeasure by cancelling his scheduled visit to Maldives in March 2015 (earlier in the month, former President Nasheed had been sentenced to 13 years imprisonment under the ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’), but repeated visits by our Foreign Secretary yielded precious little.

The Maldives was the first test for the much proclaimed ‘muscular foreign policy of Prime Minister Modi’ and when the time came to demonstrate it, there was neither muscle in our movement nor teeth in our utterances. 

And now when the ‘Democracy Movement’ in Maldives looks to India for strength and support, will New Delhi act to assert its interests and principles (this is one of the rare cases where both collide) or will it simply shrug its shoulders and say “it’s an internal matter and we don’t interfere”? 

Ravi Joshi served as a diplomat in the Maldives. 

Edited by Aleesha Matharu

First published: 28 March 2017, 18:38 IST
 
Ravi Joshi

Retired diplomat, presently a Visiting Fellow, Observer Research Foundation.

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