Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mutiny in Maldives: President Nasheed Resigns

The first democratically elected president of the Maldives resigned on February 7 and was replaced by his vice president after the police and army clashed in the streets of the island nation amid protests over the arrest of a top judge.
Keeping the uncontrolled situation in view, President Mohamed Nasheed stepped down after a police mutiny described as an “attempted coup”, capping weeks of upheaval. Mutiny by sections of the police and the army forced President Nasheed to quit. Vice President Mohamed Waheed, who previously worked as a top UNICEF official and clashed with Nasheed over the chief justice’s detention, was sworn in as president.
The resignation of President Nasheed marked a stunning fall for the former human rights campaigner who defeated the nation's longtime ruler in the country's first multiparty election.
Beginning of Crisis
The dramatic day began in the early hours when a group of policeman refused orders to break up an anti-government protest. It is said that members of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were assaulted by officers, who later took over the state television station.
Nasheed had been facing increasingly violent street protests and a constitutional crisis ever since he got a judge arrested on January 16, after accusing him of being ‘in the pocket’ of his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years before Nasheed was swept to power in 2008 as the first democratically elected President of Maldives.
Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had called for the overthrow of the government and for citizens to launch a jihad against the President. The Gayoom government had arrested Nasheed 27 times and imprisoned him for six years in all while agitating for democracy.
The situation turned ugly on February 7, with sections of the police and the army joining protesters in the capital Male and taking over the state-owned TV channel. Soon thereafter Nasheed announced that he was stepping down so that the government did not have to use force against Maldivians.
The street protests began with the arrest of the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court of Maldives, Abdulla Mohamed, on January 16, forcing the government to seek assistance from the UN as well as from the Commonwealth, for a team of legal experts to visit the country and help resolve the impasse.
The government had accused Judge Abdulla of being in complicity with criminals. “The opposition has been inciting people and spreading hatred to mobilise activists on the ground; the inflammatory speeches and incitement to violence is not something that the government can condone,” Maldivian Foreign Secretary Mohamed Naseer, who was in Colombo in the last week of January, had said.
The opposition PPM denied allegations of extremism. A PPM official in the Maldives claimed that violence during the protests had been instigated by vigilanttes unleashed by the government, many of whom hard-core criminals released from prison under a special program called ‘second chance.’
The islands are located strategically to the south west of India and straddle what is called the 9 degree channel of sea lane of communication. Indian warships patrol the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the islands as a goodwill gesture. The nation is within India’s sphere of influence and Indian Navy maintains regular contact.
Genesis of Problem
The issue came to a boil in mid-2010, when opposition members forced a deadlock by blocking all legislation. Stirring the pot continuously were a range of actors, from President Gayoom's half-brother, who heads an opposition party, to Islamists, who accused Nasheed of diluting the official religion. In the past few weeks, Male saw protests by Islamic radicals, who vandalised a mural presented by Pakistan to commemorate the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in November 2011 as “un-Islamic”, and a Buddha statue gifted by Sri Lanka.
The opposition had also accused Nasheed of being anti-Islamic. Nasheed had swept to power in 2008 , pledging to introduce ‘full democracy’ to the low lying islands (1,200 of them, mostly uninhabited and none more than six feet above the sea level) and campaigning passionately on the dangers of climate change and rising sea levels.
India’s Stance
India has acted wisely by keeping out of the political tumult in the Maldives, and allowing events to take their own course. Entirely different circumstances dictated India's 1988 decision to send commandos to prevent a coup against Gayoom by Sri Lankan Tamil militants hired by his Maldivian opponents. In the present instance, any intervention to help Nasheed remain in power would have served neither him nor India well.
As many as 30,000 Indians in Maldives are said to be safe. Nasheed had sought military intervention by India to foil the ‘coup’. But while the India had flown in paratroopers and commandos in 1988 to foil a coup-attempt in Maldives, this time the Indian Government made it plain that it did not want to interfere.
Nevertheless, New Delhi can do without a radical Islamist state in its immediate neighborhood. India should have played a more pro-active role in helping Nasheed to tide over the crisis. This is in sharp contrast to former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi acting decisively to thwart a coup in Maldives in 1988.
Brief Profile of New President
Hassan, who was educated at Stanford University in California, was the first television anchor in Maldives history and the first person shown live when local TV went on the air in 1978, according to his official biography.
According to Hassan’s biography, he became a top education official in the country, but eventually left under duress after getting elected to Parliament and incurring the ire of the autocratic government ruling in the 1990s. He joined UNICEF and rose to be its representative in Afghanistan, helping rebuild schools and provide health services after the fall of the Taliban.
The present crisis that has engulfed Maldives is a manifestation of the simmering battle for control over the country’s politics and administration between Nasheed, who was elected President in 2008 when the first free and fair election was held in 2008, and his predecessor, Gayoom, a ruthless autocrat. Behind the facade of anti-Nasheed protests that have succeeded in unseating him lurks the ugly face of radical Islamists.
They have been eyeing power for some time now and the protests came as a golden opportunity for them to stage their version of the ‘Arab Spring’. Already, there are signals of Maldives adopting fanaticism as state policy. This does not augur well for India.

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