Paradise in Peril – Case of Maldives

Knew there was trouble in the islands, but did not know it had gone this far.

With Amal Clooney, the human-rights lawyer who recently married the actor George Clooney, acting as your advocate, you would think that your case would grab headlines. And yet Mohamed Nasheed – the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, who was just sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for unnamed “terrorist offenses” by the military-backed government that overthrew him in 2012 – seems to have fallen off the world’s radar.
This is bad news for the Maldives, where the fate of a fledgling democratic regime is inextricably tied to that of Nasheed. And, with radical Islam gaining traction on the archipelago, it does not bode well for the rest of the world, either.

Nasheed’s predecessor, Maumoon Gayoom, who won the presidency in a 1978 parliamentary vote, adopted an authoritarian style, and subjected the country to three decades of misrule. While Gayoom oversaw the archipelago’s transformation into a popular holiday destination, it was he and his associates – not ordinary citizens – who benefited from the tourist industry’s success.

Nasheed’s victory in a free and fair popular vote in 2008 offered the promise of a brighter future for the conservative Muslim country. The new president – intelligent, eloquent, and enthusiastic about what his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) could deliver for the Maldives – introduced a more secular tone to political rhetoric, while working to impress upon the world the threat to his low-lying island country posed by global warming.

Toward the end of his first term, Nasheed initiated a comprehensive reform of the judicial system – an effort that did not go down well with the judiciary, which was dominated by Gayoom’s appointees. The arrest in January 2012 of the chief judge of the supreme court, Abdulla Mohamed, on charges of corruption and malpractice was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Military and police forces supported opposition-led street protests, and Nasheed was forced to resign the following month, succeeded by his then-deputy, Mohammed Hassan.

When new elections were held in 2013, politically motivated charges were brought against Nasheed to prevent his participation. Ultimately, Nasheed did contest the election, which was marred by irregularities, including the annulment of the original first round, in which he won the most votes – 20% more than his nearest rival. And yet Nasheed accepted the result: a victory for Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen.

Having refused to leave the country or retire from politics, Nasheed is now besieged by his rivals, who are seeking to deny him any chance to mount a political challenge. A new law banning prisoners from membership in political parties, coupled with his imprisonment, has cost Nasheed his position as President of the MDP.

Another example of celebrating political successes a bit too early. One has to wait till the political cycle gets over.

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