There has been a regime change in the Paradisian archipelago of Maldives. Recent events leading to such a change in the Maldives Islands have evoked great interest and concern in the corridors of power in Colombo.
Sri Lanka is the closest neighbour to the Maldives and there existed a strong personal equation between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Mohammed Nasheed.
Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic party who earned worldwide admiration and respect for the valiant struggle he spearheaded to usher in democracy to the Archipelago has been compelled to resign.His vice-president Dr.Waheed Hassan Manik has succeeded him. It remains to be seen as to whether Dr.Manik will continue as president till scheduled polls take place in 20 months or further upheavals are to be expected.
Nasheed’s downfall was a result of an unholy alliance among opposition parties, Islamic radicals, Judiciary and sections of the Police and Army. It was a mutiny amounting to a coup d’etat that brought about this change. Although Nasheed could have resisted by declaring an emergency and using force to remain in power in the face of this mutiny he chose not to do so and instead stepped down thus enabling his deputy to replace him peacefully.
Nasheed is a politician with strong democratic convictions and pious intentions.He led a long ,courageous struggle to bring down the near autocratic 30 year rule of his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom through democratic means.In the process he underwent exile and imprisonment.
His decline and fall was caused by a series of missteps in governance where he tried to do too much too soon and alienated diverse elements in the country. These sections united or converged temporarily and the result is the enforced regime change.
The flashpoint was Nasheed’s attempt to cleanse and re-structure the Judiciary. His effort to demolish the legacy of Abdul Gayoon was depicted as a bid to pack the courts with his cronies.
The lesson to be drawn from this in a South Asian contexts is that even a popular democratically elected leader could be toppled if he estranged influential sections of society. The possibility of opposition politicians, extremists, sections of the Police, Armed forces.Judiciary and Bureaucracy joining forces to bring about regime change is an ever present danger. This insecurity can be further aggravated if external agencies engage in covert action to encourage regime change.
In a bid to enlighten readers about the events in Maldives that led to the fall of Nasheed I am reproducing four incisive pieces posted on the South Asia Analysis Group portal.
Two articles are by India ’s former Additional secretary to the Cabinet Mr.B.Raman who oversaw certain functions of India ’s espionage agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) during his term of office.
The other two articles are by Dr.S. Chandrasekharan who served in the RAW for many years and is now retired. Dr.Chandrasekharan known as “Chandra” was the RAW official handling the Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups in the eighties and nineties of the last century.
It is believed that “Chandra” played an important role in 1988 when a motley crew of armed militants from the Peoples Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) tried to “invade” the Maldives in a ship and topple Abdul Gayoom. Quick action by then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi saw Indian security forces moving in fast and apprehending the PLOTE squad.
The crucial difference between then and now is that There was an external armed intrusion into the country in support of a coup and the Maldivian President had sought India’s help to quell the attempted coup against then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom telephoned Minister Rajiv Gandhi and sought help. India promptly mounted “Operation Sandhya” on the night of 3 November 1988, when Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) airlifted a battalion of the Parachute Regiment from the Agra Air Force Station and flew them nonstop over 2,000km, or 1,240 miles, to airdrop them over the Male International Airpport on Hulhule Island.
The Indian Army paratroopers who landed in less than 12 hours after Gayoom telephoned Gandhi squashed the attempt by a group of Maldivians led by Abdullah Luthufi, and assisted by over 80 militants of the PLOTE functioning as mercenaries.Indian paratroopers immediately secured the airfield and restored control of the capital to Gayoom’s government within hours of landing there.
The PLOTE fiasco in Maldives paved the way for greater cooperation between India and Maldives. PLOTE leader Umamaheswaran who began alleging in private that he would expose the powerful country in the region who encouraged him to get involved in the Maldives was himself killed in Colombo in 1989 by members of his own group. That ended the potential threat of exposure.
One aspect of Nasheed’s rule in the Maldives was the improvement and enhancement of cordial relations with countries such as China , Pakistan and Sri Lanka . Nasheed however did not confront or irritate New Delhi and was careful in continuing friendly relations with India.
Analysts supportive of the “string of pearls” theory in Indo-China relations saw a “cold war” being fought over Maldives by the Asian giants. The shimmering tension was manifested to some extent during the SAARC summit in the Maldives.
In an analytical piece filed for Reuters in November 2011 ,C.Bryson Hull observed thus-
Stretched across 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq m) of the Indian Ocean southwest of India, the Sunni Muslim nation of 1,192 islands finds itself sandwiched between the two Asian rivals, and both flexed their muscles at a meeting of South Asian nations hosted by the Maldives last week.
China preceded the heads-of-state meeting of the eight-nation South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) by opening its first embassy in the Maldives, a ceremony attended by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun.
Two Maldivian officials said China had hurriedly rented a space to open the embassy in time for the summit, while the actual embassy is being built. Officials with the Chinese delegation declined repeated requests by Reuters for comment.
“The bureaucrat in me says the timing is right. You want to open something like that when there is a big official around. But opening it right before SAARC is a way to tweak India,” an Asian diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
China joins India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh as the only countries with full embassies in the Maldives and, at the SAARC meeting, Beijing pushed to have its observer status raised to dialogue partner, an elevated standing it has with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
“There was no hurry or further discussion to make China a dialogue partner,” Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed told reporters after the meeting.
India’s response to China’s diplomatic display included a show of military force and political largesse.
Navy frigates patrolled off the Gan atoll, where the summit was held, to protect VIP visitors including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held a one-day state visit to the capital island, Male.
“This is our extended neighborhood. We wish to work with the Maldives and other like-minded countries to ensure peace and prosperity in the Indian Ocean region,” Singh told the Maldivian parliament.
India extended a $100 million credit line, inked pacts on maritime and counterterrorism cooperation, and both nations agreed “their respective territories would not be allowed for any activity inimical to the other and by any quarter.”
New Delhi has long been concerned by any moves China makes to boost its presence in neighboring countries, and is worried about the so-called “string of pearls” ambition to expand Chinese maritime influence in the Indian Ocean and beyond.
“China has made a lot of surge in the Indian Ocean rim countries. Maldives is of particular interest because it can help China gain access to the main regional forum, SAARC,” Bhaskar Roy, a strategic affairs expert at the Chennai Center for China Studies, said.
China made its present felt throughout the SAARC summit. The post-summit giveaway bag included porcelain pens and diaries from the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry detailing “Five Years of China-SAARC Cooperation.” A box for a new 40-inch TV in the media center bore a sticker: “China Aid.”
While India may have the edge in terms of political clout and military cooperation, China has a softer but no less powerful lever over the Maldives’ $1.5 billion economy.
It is the top provider of visitors to the tourism industry, which earns 28 percent of gross domestic product and 90 percent of foreign exchange, with stays costing up to $1,000 a night at paradise resorts on desert islands of pure-white beaches, palm trees and incomparably hued waters.
Chinese tourist arrivals doubled year-on-year in 2010, according to the Maldives Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. By September, this year’s 146,668 visitors from China were well past 2010′s total of 118,961.
“The Chinese can buy their way into this country. All they have to do is put out a travel advisory saying too many people are drowning and that’s it, they will turn those tourists off like a tap,” a senior Maldivian official said on condition of anonymity.
The China surge has been a godsend for tourism operators who traditionally rely on Europe and other Western countries for the bulk of visitors, but have seen those numbers fall with the downturn in developed-world economies and European debt crisis.
The Maldivian government wants “to maintain an appropriate balance between Maldives and India and other investors and not have any one country dominate them and exercise inordinate influence over them,” a senior U.S. administration official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
The United States remains concerned, as does India, about China’s plans in the Indian Ocean, the official said.
“I think it is important to try to continue to engage them, to stress opportunities for working together, and to stress the importance of them being as transparent as possible about what their economic and military intentions are,” the official said.
The president, Nasheed, was unequivocal when asked how the Maldives would avoid becoming a pawn between Asia’s giant rivals.
“We’ve made it very clear that India is our best friend and neighbor and we will continue along those lines,” he told reporters, prompting immediate questions from journalists present from China’s state media.
“There won’t be any issue because of the Maldives’ friendship with any other country,” Nasheed said, smiling.”
Ousted Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed greets his supporters as he arrives for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s meeting in Male February 8, 2012. The ousted president of the Maldives, credited with bringing democracy to the Indian Ocean island resort, said on Wednesday he was forced out of power at gunpoint, prompting clashes between police and angry supporters-Photo courtesy: Reuters
Despite Nasheed’s assertion to the contrary there were sections among “analytical” circles in India who were not happy about the perceived tilt towards China . Nasheed’s successor Dr. Waheed is described as a “long –standing friend of India ” in the Indian media. He is a co-patron of the India-Maldives Friendship society and has often addressed the India club in Male.
It is indeed noteworthy that India had not tried to help or assist the democratically elected Nasheed to quell the mutiny. This is in contrast to 1988 where New Delhi engaged in “Benign intervention”. The Indian establishment and influential sections of the media have seen the Maldivian regime change as a positive development.
Indian Prime Minister Dr.Manmohan Singh in a letter to Dr Waheed after the latter became President wrote: “I take this opportunity to extend my warm felicitations to you on your assumption of office as President of the Maldives.As a close and friendly neighbour, India will, as always, continue to support the Maldivian people’s efforts to build a stable, peaceful and prosperous country. Our two countries share a common destiny and have common security interests.India is committed to working with you and the Government in Maldives to further enhance our close, bilateral cooperation to mutual benefit and for the continued security, progress and prosperity of our two countries.”
It is against this backdrop therefore that I reproduce the four academic articles by Mr.Raman and Dr. Chandrasekharan in sequence on my blog with due acknowledgement to South Asia Analysis Group.
Here they are Friends:-DBSJ
Maldives: Opposition Ganging up Against President Nasheed
By S. Chandrasekharan
Protect Islam Rally
Opposition political parties with over 130 NGOs of all hues staged a combined massive rally in the Tsunami Monument Area on 23rd December with the ostensible purpose of protecting Islam though the real intention was to use religion to further their political ends.
For one thing- Islam was never in danger in Maldives, but what should alarm the people was the way the opposition political parties used this occasion not only to politicise the whole issue but also to whip up frenzy to accuse the Government of trying to wipe out the “Islamic faith of the people” by subterfuge.
The rally unlike the earlier one in the first week of May was fortunately peaceful, but what needs to be noted is that the opposition having failed to create “Tahrir type” of revolution to topple the Government in the first ten days of May 2011, should persist with the same game with added strength and with added vigour on a very sensitive issue (Islamic faith) in Maldives. ( See my paper 4525 of 3rd June 2011 on the subject).
I had also commented in another paper recently in 4710 of 23rd September 2011 that the “New Religious Unity Regulations Bill” to control extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam will neither bring in unity nor prevent extremism. The bill was to control the influx of extremist scholars who were indulging in whipping of extreme positions in Islam.
But what we saw in Maldives on the 23rd was that the Government need not look beyond Maldivian shores for “extremist preaching” and that they have sufficient otherwise sensible people to whip up religious frenzy to further their own political objectives. As I had said before time and again that the politicians are trying to use religion as a political tool and that it would have disastrous consequences. My paper 4459 of 1st May 2011 and the earlier one 3894 dated 27 June 2010 may be referred to.
There were media reports to indicate that the rally was financed by Pakistan and it could as well be by Saudis too as many of the NGOs do get their money from abroad.
Gayoom is culpable
It is regrettable that one person who should have stopped this unfortunate development, instead took a leading role in getting the rally organised and getting his statement read out in the rally as the “star event.”
This was the former president Gayoom- He said in the statement that was read out -“Maldivians are not forced to be Muslims but they chose to believe in Islam and allowing a religion other than Islam in Maldives will create division among the society. Maldivians should have the right to defend the religion of Islam. I call upon the government to stop its efforts to weaken the Islamic faith.” No one least of all the government was trying to introduce any other religion!
Is it not an irony that a person who claims to have brought in democracy in Maldives should go to such low levels to whip up frenzy only in the hope of getting elected once again as President in 2013?
In this he was joined by Dr. Hassan Saeed the former Attorney General who had felt the taste of extremism in Maldives when his book on Apostasy was banned in Maldives. ( Refer to my paper on his book on freedom of religion and Apostasy Paper No. 2747 of 25-6-2008)
Look at the irony of the presence of Gasim Ibrahim the multimillionaire and head of Jumhorree party, who is making profits by sale of alcohol and resort “spas” that are alleged in the media to have shady activities? Even the Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohammed Abdul Majeed Bari is said to have stakes in the resort business!
Or the presence of Gayoom’s half brother Yameen who accuses the present president of not caring about Arabic Education!
One cannot imagine Gasim who was not on good terms in the best of the times joining hands with Yameen in participating in the rally against the government. Politics make strange bedfellows!
The Five Demands of Rallyists
In the rally, five demands were made-
1. Removing the SAARC monuments- monuments that were gifted by other SAARC countries during the SAARC Summit. ( The gifts given by other countries were deliberately vandalised- on grounds that they were “anti Islamic.” The Sri Lankan state symbol of Lion was vandalised. The monument given by Pakistan hat displayed the Harappan civilization figures were destroyed. Strangely, even the gift of Afghanistan- an image of Jam Minaret which features Quranic Phrases and accepted as a World heritage Site was vandalised!
2. Condemning UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay’s comments on Islamic Sharia. It looks that it was Navi pillay’s Statement in the People’s Majlis that triggered the demonstrations and the rally on the 23rd. Navi Pillay is not a small person- but the head of the UN Human Rights Commission. She was a guest of Maldives and the Maldivan Parliament gave a great honour in letting her address the Majlis ( Parliament). She should have been very discreet and nothing is gained by condemning the practice so openly in the Parliament where one was a guest.
She called for a moratorium and a public debate on flogging as punishment for fornication. She said ” flogging women convicted of extra marital sex -is one of the most inhuman and degrading from of violence against women. She also called on Maldives to remove the “discriminatory” constitutional provision that requires every citizen to be a Muslim.
Navi Pillay may be right but certainly the Majlis is not the place to express her views and this had embarrassed and enraged her hosts. It is not that the progressive people in Maldives do not know about it but she should foreseen the “tsunami” she had created in a country that is struggling with extremism. The protesters were quick to follow with banners like- “Islam is not a toy.” , “Ban United Nations.” , “Flog Pillay”
3. Not allow Israeli Airlines to operate flights to and from Maldives.
4. Close the brothels in the country. Many of the resorts in the country have spas which people say are just brothels. The Government will be forced not only to close the spas but the resorts too and that is going to affect the Government revenues.
5. Reverse the decision in declaring areas of inhabited islands as uninhabited for the purpose of permitting alcohol sales. Without alcohol, the tourist flow will be reduced. Without tourist flows the country cannot proper. This is a vicious circle and it is not the invention of Nasheed’s government but the practice introduced by Gayoom in his time to circumvent religious objections. It is strange that Gayoom who knows the difficulties should associate himself with this demand.
President Nasheed’s Approach to Extremism
From what we see, no one is more aware than President Nasheed himself of the country going radical. It has been his belief that over a period of time, people with more education and awareness will give up extreme positions and take a moderate line. But he seems to be overtaken by the opposition groups who are eager to use religion as a political tool. Nasheed has no time to wait.
The ruling party MDP arranged a counter rally on the same day to “reject religious extremism and continue to support the traditional form of Islam that has been practised for over 800 years. President Nasheed addressed the gathering and asked for moderation in dealing with Islam.
The idea of the rally was to demonstrate to the world at large of the number of moderate people identifying as Muslims as opposed to extremist Muslims. In this they only partially succeeded!
In reacting to the remarks of the Human Rights Chiefs and the virulent response it invoked- Nasheed said that Maldives missed an opportunity to demonstrate the nobility of Islamic Sharia to the world by reacting with ‘jehadi spirit’ to controversial statements made by visiting UN Human Rights Chief. He chided the people that they should have confidence in themselves and not have their faith shaken by listening to statements and opinions of others!
What he did not say is that the Human Rights chief should have been more circumspect in making such remarks which though true are not the right thing to say in a country where the opposition groups are waiting for a chance to use religion for their political ends!
So far India has been spared and there has been no criticism of India in all the demonstrations and subsequent developments. On 22nd November, a group of people did try to vandalise the Indian monument located in Seenu Atoll, but no damage could be done as it was made of copper. Strictly speaking India had nothing to do with the developments but in some of the neighbouring countries anti-Indianism is mistaken for nationalism!
Cleansing the Judiciary-Is President Nasheed Over Reaching?
A serious constitutional crisis has arisen in Maldives over the arrest of the Chief Criminal Judge Abdulla Mohamed in a joint operation of Police and the MNDF on the 16th of January.
There is no doubt that the judiciary in Maldives is in a mess with many unqualified and incompetent people having made it into the judiciary in the void created during the transition period.
The ICJ report of July 2010 pointed out the legacy of an authoritarian past in which the President was the supreme judicial architect that has tested the transition.
Another factor which inhibited proper selection was that the Judicial Service Commission failed to fulfill the constitutional mandate of properly vetting and reappointing the judges. Even the composition of the commission was questionable. Imagine Gasim Ibrahim being a member- He is a politician and leader of one of the active political parties. He has extensive business interests and there will be an unavoidable clash of interests.
A media report that has not been challenged had this to say-
“ Here, we have a judge whom most agree is corrupt – or at the very least unfit to sit in so high an office; we have a judge who is blatantly politically biased and admits as much on national television; we have a judge who has released criminals including rapists and drug dealers and who has been seen cavorting with defendants after his rulings; and yet we as a nation and people are powerless to remove him from the office which he so flagrantly disgraces. Can there be a constitutional failing that is more evident than the one embodied in this man?”
The person referred to in the last line is none other than Abdulla Mohamad, the Chief Criminal Judge of the country.
In the year 2005, the then Attorney General and now a leader of the DQP has himself reported against the judge and the allegations included misogyny, sexual deviance, throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused. The Judicial Commission took its own time to enquire into the allegations and meanwhile the judge approached the civil court and stopped the enquiry!
The judge would have got away with all this but what triggered the anger of the government was that he issued orders for immediate release of two persons from custody – Dr. Jameel, the Vice President of DQP and Sandhaanu Didi for asserting in a private broadcasting station that the government was working with the Jews and Christian priests and encouraging vice. Didi went further and made personal attacks against President saying that the President was a madman and a Christian!
Confronted by the Police, the two were not able to substantiate the allegations and were therefore taken into custody under 125 of penal code which said that a “ person can be punished for making a fabricated statement or repeats a statement whose basis cannot be provided . . . ”
The Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed ordered the immediate release of the accused and the Police with the help of the MNDF in turn arrested the judge of the criminal court.
Police Sources say that the Judge was arrested for unethical conduct in obstructing the Police in exercising their responsibilities to preserve law and order in the society.
The High Court ordered the release of the judge stating that the arrest was illegal.
The Chief Justice Ahmad Faiz and the Prosecutor General also issued orders for the immediate release of the judge.
The JSC ( Judicial Service Commission) also issued a press note that it is not in the jurisdiction of the armed forces or the Police to take action against the judge.
The Vice President has in his blog has said that the arrest is against article 319 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further it is against the international covenant of civil and political rights and international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. He suggested that the judge should be released and then make the JSC fulfill its responsibilities.
The Secretary General of SAARC and a former attorney General Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, the youngest and the first female Secretary General, condemned the arrest in a television programme and said that it is a “violation of individual human rights, a violation of independence of the judiciary and a violation of the constitution.” She has put in her resignation papers after the broadcast.
A team of lawyers filed a case against MNDF in the High Court over the illegal arrest of the judge. A case has also been filed in the International Court of Justice over the arrest.
President Nasheed appears to be unrelenting and has justified the arrest. He has separately approached the UN for help in cleaning up the judiciary- immediate issues and the long term issues that includes the failure of the judicial accountability mechanism in the constitution.
It looks that President Nasheed has over reached himself in firstly arresting and in refusing to release the judge when the overwhelming public opinion is against taking such a drastic action. He should have taken this strong stand last year during the transition when some of the judges appointed by the previous regime were found not having “high moral character, educational qualifications or competence.”
One of the charges against the judge now arrested was that in 2005 he was alleged to have requested the under age victim of molestation to re enact her abuse in court. The charge could not be enquired into by the judicial service commission as the judge got a stay order from the civil court.
By this one act of arrest, President Nasheed is likely to antagonise all his admirers and sympathisers. Earlier it is undone, better it would be for all concerned.
Nasheed’s Supporters Allege Gayoom Orchestrated the Coup, call for International Intervention
By B. Raman
Male, the capital of the Maldives, was calm on the night of February 7,2012, with no violent incident reported after the resignation of former President Mohammad Nasheed.
2.Nasheed was released from detention by the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) shortly before midnight. A group of police officers searched his house and claimed to have found liquor bottles and narcotic substances in his house. It would appear that attempts are being made to project him as leading an anti-Islam life style. Nasheed’s supporters have alleged that workers of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives and the minority Divehi Quamee Party are guiding the Police in searching the residence of Nasheed.
3. A spokesperson of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has said: “Gayoom controls the judiciary, now the executive, the media, and in a couple of weeks probably the parliament. One thing he cannot control is popular support for President Nasheed, so he needs to find a way to jail or discredit him ahead of the 2013 election.”
4.In its first official reaction, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has issued the following statement late in the night: “We strongly condemn the coup d’etat that has been brought against the constitutionally elected government of President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives. Last night rogue elements from the Maldives Police Service in conjunction with the supporters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom overthrew the democratically elected government of President Nasheed.
“The overthrow occurred after small numbers of police and army personnel, in response to a call from leading opposition figures, Abdulla Yameen (former President Gayoom’s half brother) and Umar Naseer (former security officer in the regime of President Gayoom), joined with a group of protesters in the centre of Male, protesting against the arrest and detention of a judge accused of corruption.
“These police and army personnel, especially those from the notorious Star Force established by former President Gayoom then, ignoring the chain of command, moved around the capital in full riot gear, attacking MDP headquarters and the houses of MDP MPs and government officials.
“Many MDP members and government officials were badly hurt. Some are unaccounted for. MDP-associated property continues to be attacked. In this climate of chaos and fear, the rogue elements of the police and army helped to take over the main national TV channel, MNBC, replacing it with President Gayoom’s old TV Maldives (TVM), and also moved to take control of key installations.
“During this time, ex President Gayoom’s allies moved to retake control of the army and police. The opposition, supported by the army and police, then offered an ultimatum to President Nasheed: step down or be faced with a bloodbath in the capital.
“President Nasheed thus resigned in order to protect the public from further violence. His resignation was involuntary in that he had no choice.
“President Nasheed was taken to the President’s Office under the custody of the security forces and subsequently resigned.
“We also condemn the violent attacks carried out against our members by the Maldives Police Service including Member of Parliament and our former chairperson Mariya Didi and other MPs from the party.
“We call upon the international community to assist us in establishing democracy in the Maldives and protect the officials of the government of President Nasheed. We fear for the safety of President Nasheed and senior members of his government.”