For the few people around the world who follow the current events of this small island nation off the coast of India, the state of affairs in the Maldives is in apparent shambles. Perhaps that sentiment is not too far off, since political discontent has been widespread throughout the country, especially the period following the deposition of the first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, in 2012.
Mohamed Nasheed is the representative of the nation’s largest political party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The circumstances surrounding his ousting from power are highly controversial, but he was eventually succeeded (temporarily) by his vice-president, Mohamed Waheed, before being finally defeated in the following presidential election by Abdulla Yameen. President Yameen, the half-brother of the nation’s former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has been in power since November 17th, 2013.
However, this succession of events did not keep Mohamed Nasheed from the political scene. On the 30th of August, 2014, he was elected as president of the MDP, and it became clear that he would be running for presidency once more in the election that would follow. However, this plan was obstructed by his (almost convenient) arrest in March 2015. Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, Mohamed Nasheed was suddenly convicted and imprisoned. This was met with massive opposition, as his supporters viewed his thirteen year sentence as a ploy to prevent him from running for elections. The state’s charges were linked to the events in the past that led up to the former president’s disputed coup in 2013, under claims that his arrest of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed was unconstitutional.
The likely political motivation of this abrupt arrest was criticised by many, including Amnesty International. His initial charge was cleared before he was rearrested a few days later. Additionally, the court rejected objections from Nasheed’s lawyer that two of the three judges were unsuitable for the case, as they had testified against the former president in the past. Prior to testifying, his witnesses were also dismissed as they were not deemed strong enough. This high profile trial was completed over 10 hearings in just 23 days, and all these factors raised cries of bias and corruption.
The months following Nasheed’s arrest led to great unrest in the Maldives. Shortly after, the Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was also arrested under the charges of attempting a coup to overthrow President Yameen. The opposition to Yameen’s new regime, including the Adhaalath Party of the Maldives, believes this was a politically motivated framing. Yameen denies any knowledge of this issue however.
The last few months brought the greatest symptoms of unrest in the country. Following a boat blast that led to the Yameen’s wife being injured in October, the state arrested Vice President Adeeb on the accusation of an attempted assassination. Despite the FBI investigation that concluded that there was no evidence of a bomb, the Vice President has not been released. In the weeks afterwards, fake bombs have been found in different parts of the capital city of Malé, which no one has claimed responsibility for. In response to these bizarre events, the Maldives declared a state of emergency on November 4th.
This decision was also criticised by the public, as it was placed ahead of a planned demonstration in the same week and was perceived as an attempt to control the opposition to the current regime, rather than purely a matter of national security. No curfew was imposed, and the state of emergency was lifted less than a week later, ahead of the planned 30 days’ time.
Meanwhile, the circumstances surrounding President Yameen’s regime, which has been filled with conspiracies and arbitrary detentions, have been compared to the Maldives’ pre-democratic days under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The most recent protests, which were organised after the the state of emergency ended, commenced on the 27th of November. Many within the country continue to call for the release of the current political prisoners in the count, and the government response involved taking measures against street protests in the city, further restricting freedom of expression and political rights.
In terms of the latest developments, the European parliament made a decisive move on the 17th of December, calling for sanctions in the Maldives. The adopted resolution, which is non-binding, targets top government officials and pro-government businessmen in a motion to call for justice in the island nation. Thus with the backlash the regime is currently experiencing, there may yet be hope for President Nasheed’s supporters. It is clear for now that many more events must play out before this political crisis reaches its denouement.