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 their President Abdulla Yameen. In a truly historic move, a most unlikely combination of leaders came together on March 24 to form the Maldives United Opposition (MUO) to fight the tyranny and corruption of President Yameen.
The fact that President Yameen’s stepbrother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (president of the Progressive Party of Maldives), who was the longest ruling President joined hands with former President Mohamed Nasheed (president of Maldivian Democratic Party) and a former coalition partner in Mr Yameen’s government and a senior minister in his Cabinet, Qasim Ibrahim (leader of Jumhooree Party) along with another former coalition partner — Sheikh Imran Abdulla (president of the Adhaalath Party) speaks volumes of the sense of desperation that prevails in the country.
They declared that they would work together to:
Safeguard the tenets of Islam, independence, sovereignty and nationalism,
Protect ownership of 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,
Prevent corruption and embezzlement within the government.
What is the provocation for four such diverse leaders coming from different political backgrounds to come together to overthrow President Yameen now?
Well, Mr Nasheed and Mr Ibrahim have both suffered directly in the hands of President Yameen who always felt threatened by their popularity that was manifestly higher than his own in the elections of 2013. Former President Nasheed who decided to honourably accept defeat in a repeatedly manipulated popular verdict in 2013, (by a partisan judiciary that kept nullifying the vote till it was in Mr Yameen’s favour) was 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 from neighbouring Sri Lanka.
Mr Ibrahim who supported President Yameen after elder statesman Mr Gayoom beseeched him in 2013 and joined the Cabinet as finance minister deserted him within a year, as he could not suffer the indignities heaped upon him by a haughty and power-crazed President. Unable to quell his popularity President Yameen decided to target his enormous business empire and imposed a hefty fine of $100 million allegedly for not developing some of the islands allotted to him for tourism purposes and thereby causing loss to the State. Mr Ibrahim was finally let off when he made a deal with the then vice-president Ahmed Adeeb (known as the money bag for President Yameen) and gave an undertaking to quit politics. Not content with this, the President introduced a law in Parliament, fixing an upper age limit that would automatically debar Mr Ibrahim from the next presidential elections in 2018. Latest in the series of arbitrary acts of
Mr Yameen was the report of proposed sale/lease of Faafu 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 postponed due to the unexpected intensity of protests led by the MDP and the MUO.
Next was the repeated postponement of local council elections (postponed three times) that was scheduled for May 5. The latest delay is caused by the revolt within the ruling PPP family, which has not been able to get enough councillors to contest. The president of the ruling party, Mr Gayoom, himself has thrown his lot with the Opposition and his son Faaris Maumoon moved a no-confidence motion against the Speaker of the House. This motion taken up for vote on March 27 saw an unprecedented sight of the Armymen coming in plain clothes into the House and bodily lifting the 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 his situation is.
From the day he took office in November 2013, President Yameen has shown that he is 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. Second was President Yameen’s declaration to join the “Maritime Silk Route later christened as the One Belt One Road” initiative of President Xi Jinping 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 the 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. Maldives was the first test for the much-proclaimed “muscular foreign policy” of Mr 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”?
The writer served as a diplomat in Maldives