It does not take long for a standoff to become a crisis and graduate into something resembling an upheaval. That has been the old, familiar political script in the Maldives and a handful of countries in the neighbourhood. It is extremely distressing that two leading judges — Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed — have been detained in the latest tumult to sweep this South Asian island nation. The judges’ arrest came within hours of a declaration of a 15-day state of emergency. Soldiers seized control of the court complex and the authorities brought corruption charges against the two judges who were instrumental in ordering the release of nine political prisoners, including former president Mohammed Nasheed last week. The incumbent president, Mohmmed Yameen, does not trust Nasheed and other opposition figures and finds his half-brother ex-president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom even less of a friend than before.
Yameen earlier was annoyed with the apex court for reinstating a dozen sacked legislators who had switched their loyalties. Their defection bolstered the strength of the opposition in parliament and made Yameen’s government look increasingly vulnerable. The next fortnight will be crucial as it will probably determine the future course of the country.
Since becoming a multiparty democracy a decade or so ago, the Maldives has regressed considerably with voices of dissent increasingly being throttled under Yameen’s administration from 2013 onwards. It is unfortunate that Yameen refused to comply with the apex court decree to free prisoners even after his administration had earlier promised to engage and work with the court. Equally disappointing is ex-president Nasheed’s call for intervention from neighbours like India. If anything, the embattled country needs mediation and advice and not outright intervention from any outside power. Such actions will only delegitimise the struggle for democracy in the country. We watch with interest.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2018.
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