Maldives: Coup or No Coup?

Maldives a small atoll nation of about 400,000 people by last count has been in the news due to allegations of a coup by the deposed President Mr Mohamed Nasheed popularly known as, “Anni”. Nasheed was in the limelight for holding a cabinet meeting underwater to underline the challenge posed by climate change to his country. Nasheed has in the past also proposed buying land in other countries to settle his people in case Maldives is submerged in the decades ahead. On 7 February however it was Mr Nasheed’s turn to be submerged by what he now claims as a, “coup,” though it was his elected Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to whom he handed power after resigning. The issue now is whether the resignation was voluntary as Nasheed’s detractors claim or coerced by opposition supported by the police and the military?
Evidently the transfer of power has raised new questions of whether this was an engineered coup or a turn of events that led to voluntary resignation by Mr Nasheed. This question may remain unanswered
For the record Nasheed has been facing protests for almost two months now by a variety of forces, fundamentalists, political opposition and even some judiciary and police as he claims led by his detractors, mainly supporters of former President Abdul Mayoom Gayoom. Thus on 7 February after large scale protests with sporadic violence, Nasheed found his position untenable and thus resigned. He remarked in a televised Conference, "It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign. I don't want to run the country with an iron fist. I am resigning."
Taking him for his word for what it was, many heaved a sigh of relief including India which was following events in the country very closely. Indian Ministry of External Affairs Press briefing on 07 February stated thus – “In response to a question from the media, the official spokesperson conveyed: We have noted the decision of President Mohamed Nasheed to resign in favour of Vice President Dr. Mohamed Waheed. This is an internal matter of the Maldives, to be resolved by Maldivians. We hope that all issues will be resolved in a peaceful and democratic manner”.
This was followed by a press release on 8 February which quoted a conversation by Prime Minister Dr Man Mohan Singh with the new President of the country, Dr Waheed. The text indicated unequivocal support by Dr Man Mohan Singh thus, "I take this opportunity to extend my warm felicitations to you on your assumption of office as President of the Maldives.” Following this new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan appointed a full cabinet to include Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) as Minister of Home Affairs and Mohamed Nazim as Minister of Defence and National Security.
Things came to a head however when deposed President Nasheed retracted his stand a day later that it was a voluntary resignation and claimed that it was a, “coup,” forced on him by elements from the Army and the Police, who were supporters of former President Gayoom. He virtually claimed President Waheed to have let him down with some media reports even drawing the analogy of Brutus. Nasheed’s supporters also came out in large numbers and the new government was faced with a major crisis. 
Alarmed by the developments, Nasheed who has cultivated many friends in the liberal circles and has a strong image of as a rights activist, some even calling him as Mandela of Maldives, a number of diplomats from the United States, United Nations and the UK rushed to Male over the week end bringing into question the nature of the transformation. India rushed a special envoy M. Ganapathi, Secretary (West) who weighed in for stability in the country.
After some hectic parleys the international community accepted that the change of power was in overall interest of stability in the country, supporting Indian decision however concerns were being expressed over pressure being brought upon Mr Nasheed from the Army and Police to resign and also on his supporters in the days following installation of a new government under his Vice President. Issue of an arrest warrant against Mr Nasheed is also worrying. The new President nominated a new cabinet many of whom are supporters of Mr Gayoom which irked Mr Nasheed even further and he now appears to be determined to continue his protests.
Evidently the transfer of power has raised new questions of whether this was an engineered coup or a turn of events that led to voluntary resignation by Mr Nasheed. This question may remain unanswered, for classic definition of a coup is ambiguous. Generally speaking a coup implies violent transfer of power by a minority normally led by the military. While there was no doubt some coercion involved, that power was transferred to a legally elected Vice President, there was no violence against the incumbent per se and has gained international recognition of sorts may lead some to conclude that this was not a coup. The jury will remain out on this one.
Underlying the current crisis are substantial challenges faced by Maldives which have remained in the background. The geography, demography, political legacy and economy render the country ever vulnerable to such transfer of power. Ruled by Mr Gayoom for over 30 years, the first elections were held in the country in 2008 where Nasheed defeated Gayoom and came to power. Yet some in the administration including the judiciary, bureaucracy, military and police remained Gayoom loyalists. The wide spread atolls way out in the Indian Ocean also gives a picture of concern.
More over the population is highly literate at 93% yet unemployment amongst youth is over 22 percent. High end tourism which provides employment to large number of temporary migrants and monotheism practiced by the state completes the picture. It is time that the new leadership in the country addresses these basic issues as much as the politics behind the crisis for long term stability. 


More by :  Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle

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