The election of President Mohamed Nasheed in Maldives after 30 years of autocratic rule by Mr Abdul Gayoom in 2008 was hailed as a victory for electoral democracy. Mohamed Nasheed was feted as a young and dynamic leader who despite belonging to a small state in giant Asia, greatly impacted the discourse internationally particularly on issues as climate change. However this political dream turned sour in July when first the entire cabinet had to resign as the parliament led by the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) which has a majority did not facilitate governance.
There were also reports that in the well spread out archipelago of 350,000 people Gayoom loyalists comprising of political leaders, bureaucrats and even some members of the judiciary had coagulated to pose difficulties to the President and the ruling Party, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Allegations of corruption against the former leadership were rampant with mention of foreign bank accounts. Gayoom supporters are also accused of despatching a team to lobby support abroad including in UK and Sri Lanka.
The crisis intensified when the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) deployed armed personnel on July 14 taking Abdulla Yamin President of People’s Alliance (PA) and MP from Mulaku in protective custody away to Aarah Island after violent clashes between government and opposition supporters outside his home. Yamin was earlier arrested by police on charges of treason and bribery of parliamentarians. But the Supreme Court released the MP overruling a High Court warrant to hold him in 15 days house arrest.
President Nasheed claimed that he could not “take a risk on the safety of a political figure,” and therefore the custody of Mr Yamin half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was necessary. Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, a high-profile businessman thought to be one of the wealthiest men in the Maldives and Deputy Speaker of the Majlis and PA Deputy leader Ahmed Nazim is also facing allegations of corruption concerning the judiciary, along with ruling party MP Mohamed Musthafa. They were however released by a criminal court ruling that current evidence was insufficient to warrant their detention.
There were interventions by the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and also the US ambassador though Robert Blake United States Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs and former US ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives seemed to have broken the impasse. Blake claimed the current political crisis facing the Maldives “is one that is familiar to many democracies – the president represents one party while the opposition controls the parliament.”
President Mohamed Nasheed sent the reinstated cabinet to the parliament for endorsement after he had reappointed 13 cabinet ministers on July 7. The government led by MDP and opposition party DRP entered into talks to resolve differences. The Government has demanded that the parliament endorse the cabinet en masse, the opposition insisted on nine requirements including a presidential election after changing the system of government and amending the constitution. Other demands include, Vice Presidential re-election alongside President Mohamed Nasheed, continuing parliament sittings, assurance from MDP members not to obstruct parliamentary committee meetings, assurances from Chief of Defence Force and Police Commissioner not to violate the law and President Nasheed’s word that he would not influence any independent body. Negotiations between the two parties are continuing with no break through so far.
Apart from a possible backlash from Gayoom loyalists who are alleged to be in all components of the state, the problems in Maldives arise from the presidential system. The presidential system is more prone to executive-legislative conflicts when two different parties, one holding power and another are in majority in the parliament. This leads to possible conflicts such as delays in legislation such as tax bills, posing no confidence motions, blocking welfare provisions which are seen to provide benefit to the ruling party led government and so on.
Continuance of political unrest in the country is reminiscent of other states which are making a transition to electoral democracy with the balance between the government and the parliament skewed as the country had opted for a Presidential system complicating the equations as the opposition DRP is in control of the Parliament and requires to pass all laws before these can be put into practice including the approval of the cabinet members.
Is Maldives the most fledgling democracy in South Asia likely to go the way of political contests in other states such as Nepal and Bangladesh remains to be seen, for a constitutional crisis that arose in the beginning of the July has now been prolonged and may create the threat of subversion of the entire system and therefore there is a need for early resolution of the impasse?