Former Maldives President Nasheed has once again made headlines for failing to appear in court and challenging the judicial systems.
The Maldives, a small Indian Ocean state, once again finds itself embroiled in yet another political turmoil. The detention and probable arrest of former president Mohamed Nasheed, has attracted much attention in the Maldives. Consequently, the tussle between the government and opposition parties on the one hand and political forces and the country’s judiciary on the other lends to further unrest amidst rising incidents of religious extremism.
The political crisis was triggered in the Maldives with the dramatic resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed last February. Nasheed argued that the resignation was submit- ted under duress at “gunpoint.” The unrest in the Maldives reached its climax when Nasheed was momentarily arrested for violating court orders regarding criminal charges of illegally arresting the Criminal Court Chief Judge, Abdullah Mohammed on January 16. Nasheed refused to appear before the court as he denied abusing
his power and violating the constitution by removing and sending military personnel to arrest the chief judge of the criminal court. According to the country’s constitution, the judge can only be removed by the Judicial Service Commission.
However, Nasheed argues that he was compelled to take action against the judge as the judicial commission could not proceed further after facing a series of allegations. The removal of the judge led to widespread protests, which culminated in a mutiny by the police. Nasheed contended that armed police officers were part of a conspiracy hatched by the loyalists of former president and Nasheed’s rival, Mamoun Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party ( MDP) defeated Gayoom in the 2008 elections. Gayoom, known largely as an autocratic leader, ruled the Maldives for three decades since 1978, using an assortment of autocratic tactics to quell political opposition. The situation was further complicated, when Nasheed’s deputy and current President, Mohamed Waheed, stated that Nasheed was not forced to resign and was not threatened by the police or armed officers.
In the current realm of affairs, the former president’s refusal to appear before the court was justified by his lack of expectation of a fair trial. It is disappointing that a person with sound democratic credentials like Nasheed shied away from appearing in court, having spent long stints in jail during Gayoom’s rule while struggling for democracy in the Maldives.
Besides Nasheed’s lack of faith in the country’s judicial system, if he is found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment, he will be disqualified to hold public office for three years. In this respect, the cases against Nasheed seem to be somewhat politically motivated since he is the MDP’s candidate for next year’s presidential elections. The MDP has also described the government and establishment’s actions against Nasheed as political vendetta and a move to prevent the MDP from winning the elections.
On its part, the government of the Maldives emphasized that they had nothing to do with the filing and pursuing of criminal cases against Nasheed. They argue that the case against the former President was initiated by the independent Prosecutor General’s office when he was still in office.
Only time will reveal whether Nasheed resigned to bolster his prospects in the next presidential elections or it was the result of collusion between opposition parties with “powerful networks” to remove the MDP from power.
Only time will reveal whether Nasheed resigned to bolster his prospects in the next presidential elections or it was the result of collusion between opposition parties with “powerful networks” to remove the MDP from power. The political scenario in the Maldives is mired in a lack of a democratic culture, weakness and independence of state institutions. Due to these problems, the country’s leaders seemingly lack the maturity level, which is a hallmark of political leaders in well-entrenched democracies.
In addition to this, the recent assassination of Member of Parliament, Afrasheem Ali, has further aggravated political instability in the Maldives. MP Ali was considered a moderate Islamic scholar in the predominantly Sunni population of more than three million people. The brutal assassination marks the first-ever killing of a member of parliament in Maldivian history. Analysts have attributed Ali’s killing to the rising phenomenon of religious extremism in the country, which traditionally has had liberal social traditions. By assassinating a moderate Islamic scholar and an MP, religious extremists hope to further foment political instability and take advantage of the prevailing chaos. This has been the modus operandi of religious extremists in South Asia during times of political instability.
There is ample room to believe that foreign terrorist groups operating in the name of Islam could be behind the assassination. The Maldives has a strategic geographical location and extremists must be stopped before they exploit the archipelago for their own agenda. Measures must be taken before the country, known for its beauty and exquisite tourist resorts, becomes another hotbed of religious extremism in South Asia. Raza Khan is a political analyst and researcher on political economy and the Af-Pak region. He has served in several senior positions in the Pakistan government and is currently writing his doctoral thesis on religious extremism-terrorism in Pakistan.