A couple’s getaway, a family’s getaway, a friends’ getaway, a solo getaway, best for any type of vacation; that is how we have always known the ‘island paradise’-Maldives. One of the preeminent destinations for tourists in Asia, Maldives is justifiably celebrated for its breathtakingly beautiful beaches and astoundingly expensive luxury hotels.
But in the recent years, Maldives has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. While the water of the coral reefs of its beaches may look to us as clear turquoise, politics in this holiday destination has always been murky. Political drama of this country is centred not on the beaches but in Male, the tiny urbanised island capital where all the major institutions of Maldives are based.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Maldives policy framework is of a Presidential representative Democratic Republic where the President is the head of the government. Whereas, the execution powers of the country is exercised by the government. Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom served as President for 30 years. He is known to be the longest serving head of a country amongst the South-Asian countries. Mr. Gayoom was the face of Maldives until 2008 when a transition to democracy was demanded by the Maldivians.
From 2003, following the death of a prisoner Naseem (in custody), Maldives experienced numerous anti-government demonstrations calling for political reforms, more freedom and an end to torture and oppression. A new constitution was ratified in August, 2008 and this paved the way for the country’s first multi-party Presidential elections, which took place two months later. The first party to register for elections was Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headed by popular opposition leaders Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) and Mohamed Latheef (Gogo).
The charismatic and progressive Mohamed Nasheed succeeded Gayoom in 2009. Nasheed served for a brief period of multi-party democracy before being controversially ousted five years after taking office. Nasheed was internationally recognized for his efforts in addressing the climate change impact on Maldives. He even organized an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the risks of rising sea levels, capturing the world’s attention. Moreover, he crossed out the repressive laws and bolstered democratic institutions.
Unfortunately, this democratic bliss came to an unpleasant end when Nasheed was imprisoned in 2015 on terrorism charges which were termed as ‘contrived’ by his supporters. He was allowed to leave prison after a year on medical grounds and was thus able to acknowledge the asylum granted to him by Britain.
Current President Abdulla Yameen has been in power since 2013 following a disputed election, which his opponents claim was rigged. Since then, he has been accused of jailing his critics or opponent leaders, cracking down on dissent and ultimately eroding the country’s democratic processes.
President Yameen was in Sri Lanka when the Supreme Court in an unexpected move ordered the release of nine imprisoned opposition figures including self-exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed. The apex court ordered this release and ruled that their trials were politically motivated. This order implies the freedom of all the critics of Yameen as well as the return of his political rivals to the Maldivian political ring. This didn’t go down well with the President, who ordered his troops to surround the Parliament from outside, while declaring a ‘state of emergency’. This declaration of a ‘state of emergency’ prevented the release of the imprisoned lawmakers. Mr. Yameen further ordered the army to arrest his estranged half-brother, former President Gayoom as well as Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, as tweeted by the local police. The 15 day State of Emergency has created political chaos not only in Maldives but also in international politics.
Following this turn of events, both the former Presidents of Maldives, Mr. Nasheed and Mr. Gayoom have seeked the help of India to force Yameen to release the recently jailed Supreme Court Judges and political prisoners. Mr. Nasheed has also requested the U.S. to stop the flow of financial tributaries to Maldives through U.S. banks. While, India’s intervention in the affairs of foreign countries is very rare and unusual but not new in the case of Maldives, as our troops had been sent in 1988 to foil a coup in the country.
In response to the former President’s request India has encouraged its neighbour to abide by the rule of law. “In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the Government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the (Supreme) Court,” the statement said.
The U.S. issued a stern criticism of the President’s actions. “President Yameen has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected members of Parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature, revised laws to erode human rights...and weakened the institutions of government,” the State Department said in a statement.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said, “The suspension of several functionaries of the judiciary and Parliament and restrictions on a series of constitutional rights, create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of Yameen.” The United Nation’s human rights chief has warned that Yameen’s state of emergency decree, is undermining the checks and balances necessary in any functioning democracy.
Due to this chaos the tourism sector of the country is expected to bear the most losses. Tourism being the key-driver of the economy of Maldives, accounts for one-third of the economic output. While, the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs has tried its best to reassure vacationers about the situation, the number of tourist in Maldives has only fallen. Moreover, countries like India, the U.S. , China and the U.K. have advised their citizens against travelling to the country. The United States of America since January, has put Maldives on a Level 2 travel advisory, implying that tourists need to exercise caution owing to terrorism links.
Around 1.4 million tourists worldwide travelled to the Indian Ocean islands in 2017, according to government statistics. In 2016 the Reuters reported that the Maldives earned $2.7 billion from holidaymakers visiting luxury hotels and scuba-diving resorts. According to the analysis by Ratings agency Moody, during a state of emergency in 2015, growth dropped to 2.8 per cent from 6 per cent in 2014. Previous political disruptions also have negatively affected the GDP growth as the report stated. Moody also states that, apart from impeding budgetary operations and hindering the government’s ability to meet its fiscal targets, a political crisis, especially if accompanied by human rights violations, risks disrupting funding from multilateral and bilateral lenders. Maldives has a history of sizeable debt burden which in accordance with the report was 62.8 per cent of GDP in 2017. The 2016 data states that the multilateral institution held 9.8 per cent of public sector debt, while the bilateral lenders held 22.3 per cent. The escalating political tension is only leading to Maldives losing its attractiveness as an investment destination.
In an interview to The D.W, Jameel Ahmed, former vice-president of Maldives, said that “Yameen has violated the constitution by suspending certain rights that are untouchable even under the state of emergency. The right to a fair trial is one of them.” According to Mr. Jameel, former President Nasheed’s request to India, asking for troops to be sent to Maldives to restore democracy was absolutely justified. He further said that “India is our immediate neighbour and the largest democracy in the world. Maldives and India are closely linked and share a common culture. India has always helped and reiterated its support to Maldivians in difficult times.”
As reported by CNN on February 7, 2018, after defying the Supreme Court ruling and ordering the arrest of the Judges, Yameen addressed Maldivians through the media and said that it was business as usual and urged his country to remain calm. He claimed that the apex court had acted “hastily” and argued that his actions were designed to prevent a coup. He further added “The S.C had decided to reverse the ruling that precipitated the crisis and nine political prisoners would not be released.” The President’s office insisted, “Though some rights are restricted but general movements, services and businesses will not be affected.” As Moody’s report stated, “Such a development is credit negative for the sovereign as it undermines the rule of law by overriding for apparent political considerations, a decision by the judiciary.”
Mr. Jameel’s reply about the rumours of Yameen’s international support was, “President claims to have the backing of China, Saudi Arabia and Russia but none of these countries have any particular reason to appease him and alienate the Maldivians.”
Yameen’s actions in the past are of not great liking as in 2016, Maldives withdrew from the U.K commonwealth after the association of former British colonies threatened to suspend it for chipping away at democratic institutions.
Hence, all of the above situations clearly point to the conclusion that Mr. Yameen is an unpopular politician internationally as well as nationally. So, let’s just hope the beautiful holiday destination gets its issues resolved as the basic principles of human rights and the rule of democracy are at stake. This is what the whole Free World stands for, irrespective of the political and geographical barriers.
References: - Wikipedia, cnbc.com, economic times, bbc.com, dw.com, edition.cnn.com
Name: - KASTURI RAY