Maldives: Has the Wheel Turned Full Circle?
uncharacteristic move, President Abdullah Yameen of the Maldives accepted
defeat on September 24, 2018 after an astonishing result where he lost the
presidential election to Ibrahim Solih of the opposition coalition. Solih won
58 percent of the votes as opposed to 42 percent by Yameen.
represented the coalition parties whose leaders were either in jail or abroad.
India, China and the western world commended Yameen for upholding
proud, autocratic and arrogant Yameen was consumed with anger when he reflected
on his defeat. How could he lose? In an equally shocking U-turn on October 10,
he claimed that the election was rigged and sent a petition to the Supreme
Court. It did not occur to him that he was disliked for his injustice,
repressive laws, violence, and corruption. Yameen first assumed power in 2013
as a candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by his
half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He won by blatantly violating Articles 107,
262, 268 of the constitution.
the second election, his petition to the Supreme Court claimed that the
election result should be quashed. Yameen's lawyers stated that the Election
Commission had used "disappearing ink" which vanished after a short span of
time and used fraudulent means to ensure that Yameen lost. They further added
that false ballot papers were used to rig the votes against Yameen who had "three secret witnesses" to testify to support these allegations. The Supreme
Court met the Election Commissioner Ahmed Shareef who strongly insisted that
voting was free and fair. Yameen, in anger, sent all the commissioners death
threats and four of the five election commissioners fled to Sri Lanka. The
company which printed the ballot papers was under pressure from Yameen's men
but refused to be intimidated declaring the ballot papers were all transparent.
the Supreme Court refused to call Yameen's "three secret witnesses." The US, EU
and India threatened sanctions if Yameen did not accept the result of the
election. He was cornered and on October 17 appeared before state television
What is the
background to this seemingly farcical tale? Why are world powers so interested
with the second question, Maldives, a small state, is strategically located
400km from southwest of India. It has 26 atolls and over 1,000 islands. But its
location covering a large area of the Indian Ocean makes it a state with
strategic geopolitical significance to both China and India.
remarkable growth of China with an economy that is five times the size of
India's has led to newer ambitions. Maldives lies across China's trade route to
Africa, the Middle East and Europe. China now has a military base in Djibouti
and controls new ports in Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan. It
has special interest in the Maldives for diplomatic reasons.
after winning the election in 2013 ignored Maldives' old ally, India, and
cancelled the construction of the international airport by an Indian company
called GMR and handed it over to China. He visited China in 2017 and a Free
Trade Agreement was signed. Moreover, a number of infrastructure projects in
the Maldives are being developed with Chinese financial help and expertise.
Three islands were bought by the Chinese in defiance of a law forbidding foreign
ownership. Three Chinese warships were docked in the Maldives. Maldives' "India
First:" Policy of 1965 seemed to be virtually forgotten.
promulgated an anti-terrorism bill granting him exclusive licence to declare
individuals and groups "terrorists". In 2015, during his administration,
popular former President Mohamed Nasheed was convicted of terrorism charges and
sentenced to 13 years in prison-the charge being detention of a judge! When
public protests erupted in favour of Nasheed, Yameen suppressed them brutally.
People were fearful of Yameen's reign of terror.
2016 news leaked about the corruption scandal of over USD 30 million. Yameen
was alleged to have been responsible, with his cronies benefitting from the
heist. In response, Yameen immediately proposed a bill to criminalise "defamation".
campaigned against it as it would suppress freedom of the press and debates on
political or human rights issues. The slogan of journalists "In Defence of 27" referred to the provision in the constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech.
The police arrested some 16 persons in April 2016 breaking up a peaceful sit-in
protest staged by journalists outside the president's office. Amnesty
International called on the government to not enact the bill into law as it
would have a "stifling effect on the right to freedom of expression." All
public outrage was disregarded and the bill was passed sparking fierce
criticism from the western world. Moreover, Yameen arbitrarily removed eight MPs
who were against him including judges.
latest presidential election, Yameen again asked for nomination from PPM's
leader Gayoom for candidature. Gayoom declined due to Yameen's corruption and
arbitrary actions. Confrontation arose between the brothers and the PPM split
up and Yameen became its leader.
wily and experienced, formed a coalition with old enemies. They were Nasheed
from the Maldivian Democratic Party, Qasim from Jumhooree Party, and Abdullah
of Adhaalath Party and they signed a declaration to revive democracy. Soon all
were jailed by Yameen except Nasheed who was in the
does indeed seem to have turned. Yet, can we be sure that it has turned full
High Commissioner, I have known all the leaders of the opposition parties well.
I worry how they will tussle for ministerial positions and benefits, all
wishing to be the first among equals with different interests. Also, will China
accept a return to at least equivalent friendship and cooperation with India?
It is hoped that the coalition will work together democratically. If that does
not happen, then Maldives will again fall into chaos and conflict.