Maldives Crisis

Brief Historical Background of Maldives

During 1558 to 1573, Maldives was under Portuguese. The Portuguese occupation ended when they were expelled by the locals. In the 17th century, it first became a protectorate first of the Dutch rulers of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and then of the British who take control of Ceylon in 1796. It remained an internally self governing British protectorate till 1887. In 1932, democracy saw the first ray of light in Maldives when its first democratic constitution was proclaimed. With this, sultanate became an elected position. In 1953, the Sultanate was abolished and Maldives became a republic within the Commonwealth, however, the Sultan was restored within months. In 1965, Maldives tested full independence as the Sultanate was ousted from the Commonwealth. In 1968, Sultan was deposed after referendum, republic reinstated with Ibrahim Nasir as president. In 1978, Nasir retired, replaced by Maumoon Abd al-Gayoom.

In 1982, Maldives rejoined commonwealth. In 1988, there was a coup attempt that involved Sri Lankan mercenaries. The attempt was foiled with the help of Indian commandos. In 1998, Gayoom re-elected for a fifth term in presidential referendum.

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The 21st century has been full of turmoils for Maldives. In 1999, there was a parliamentary election, in which it was alleged by the Amnesty International that some candidates were detained and tortured. In the next few years, there were accuses of political repression and torture. In 2003, there was an unprecendted anti-government riot in Male. In 2003, Gayoom was re-elected for unprecedented sixth term in presidential referendum, winning more than 90% of the vote. In the coming year, Gayoom promised that there would be constitutional changes to limit presidential term and to allow formation of political parties. In the same year, there were riots and emergency was imposed therein. In 2008, President Gayoom ratified a new constitution that paved the way for first multi-party presidential elections. By 2008, Maumoon Abd al-Gayoom had completed 30 year rule which was ended by elections. It was in October 2008, when opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed defeated President Gayoom in second round of voting and became the president in next month. Mohamed Nasheed is best known for his takes on environment issues. In 2009 he made a statement that his country will become carbon-neutral within a decade by switching completely, to renewable energy sources. His rule had seen several protests on many grounds such as food prices, law & order etc.

More on Nasheed

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Mohamed Nasheed is one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). He served as 4th President of the Maldives from 2008 to 2012. He resigned on 7 February 2012, following weeks of protests by opposition which was eventually joined by some of the military. Nasheed has stated that these protesters had joined with "powerful networks" of Gayoom loyalists to force his resignation in a coup d’etat, stating that he was forced to resign "at gunpoint" by police and army officers.

Background of the Recent Crisis:

On January 16, 2012, Nasheed had ordered military to arrest Chief Criminal Court Justice Abdulla Mohamed, accusing him of corruption and blocking multi-million graft cases against allies of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Supreme Court orders to release the judge but Nasheed later disregards Supreme Court order. This sparks the protests led by the opposition in the capital Male. On January 30, the opposition party leaders met then-Vice President Waheed. At a news conference afterwards, they call on army and police to swear allegiance to him, and say they have decided he must take over the presidency.

This was followed by a fight between the supporters and opposers of Nasheed. Security forces intervened mildly. On February 7, 2012, a police special operations unit previously known as the "Star Force" smashed up the headquarters of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party. The Star Force was created during Gayoom’s presidency specifically to crack down on protests against his government. The force then proceeds to Republic Square, the seaside site of both the police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters, and demand the police commissioner’s resignation. Around 3 a.m. on same date, Vice President Waheed goes on VTV, owned by opposition politician Qasim Ibrahim, to pledge his support for the rebelling police. More police arrive and enter a standoff with MNDF soldiers. Nasheed tries to persuade the police to stand down. They refuse. Clashes erupt between loyal troops and the mutinying police, who are joined by some rebelling soldiers. Teargas and rubber bullets are fired, and civilian protesters enter the fray. Video later shows an agitated Nasheed urging MNDF troops to go outside and stop the violence.Former assistant police commissioners Abdulla Riyaz and former military Colonel Mohamed Nazim, enter MNDF headquarters. Video taken about an hour later shows Nazim telling the protesting police and soldiers their demand that Nasheed resign has been delivered. Mutinous security forces take over state broadcaster MNBC. Soon it begins airing the feed of VTV. It is swiftly re-named Television Maldives, its name during Gayoom’s rule. At around noon, Nasheed is escorted by Riyaz and Nazim into the presidency, accompanied by at least 50 soldiers. He meets his cabinet. Then, Nasheed writes his resignation letter by hand under their supervision, and goes on television to announce it to the nation.Opposition supporters erupt in cheers in Republic Square By 3:45 p.m., vice-president Waheed is sworn in as president. Nasheed is under military guard at the presidential bungalow. By evening, he is free and returns to his family home in Male.

Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has since assumed the presidency in what Nasheed and his supporters describe as a coup d’etat. Hassan denies the accusations, saying he is merely following constitutional protocol.

About the new President:

Mohamed Waheed Hassan is the only president of the Indian Ocean archipelago not to be elected. He has termed his accession from deputy as “a constitutional transfer of power after the resignation of former president Mohamed Nasheed”. Wahed has done PhD in International Development Education from Standford University in 1987, and afterwards served as a freelance consultant for numerous United Nations agencies in the 90s. He worked in the MDP in 2005 before he formed his own political party, Gaumee Itthihaad (GIP) in June 2008. GIP and a Nasheed-led MDP formed a coalition with him as the presidential candidate and Waheed as the vice-presidential candidate in the elections that saw the fall of Gayoom.

Interests of India:

India has long maintained cultural and economic influence in the Maldives, due in part to geographic proximity. But India has shown a willingness to use military power to exert influence in its island neighbor. As recently as 1988, Tamil rebels attempted to oust former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom but were thwarted when India deployed naval forces and paratroopers to intervene. India’s interest in the Maldives is understandable: Its geographic position is an ideal location from which the Indian navy can project power into the wider Indian Ocean. Conversely, it is also prime location for foreign actors to project power into India.

Interests of China

China would like to wrest the island nation from India’s sphere of influence. In recent times, Maldives has become more valuable for China as the Dragon grows as an economic and military power. China’s need for raw materials to fuel its growing economy — and the need to protect those materials — has led Beijing to try to secure relationships with countries along transit corridors in the Indian Ocean. To lure the Maldives into its sphere of influence, the Chinese have relied mainly on soft power, including economic power. In fact, Chinese nationals have become some of the most important patrons of Maldivian tourism. China’s strategy in the Indian Ocean worries New Delhi. China already operates in Myanmar’s Coco Islands and Pakistan’s Gwadar port, located respectively to India’s east and west. China has yet to secure any permanent military bases on the Indian Ocean’s many islands, though the Chinese navy has been involved in anti-piracy operations farther west, off the coast of Seychelles. In the early 2000s, there was speculation that Beijing would build a submarine base on a Maldivian atoll, but there is no evidence that project is coming to fruition. In any case, securing a presence in the Maldives would place the Chinese to the southwest of India, adding to New Delhi’s concerns of being boxed in by Beijing.

Implications of the Recent Crisis:

Maldives has a strategic position in Indian Ocean and is important particularly for India and China. The recent crisis has been described by both of these countries as domestic issue and so far has not intervened. However, both countries keep monitoring, what is happening in Maldives. The Maldivian foreign policy has traditionally favoured India, and experts believe that the regime change in the Maldives could disrupt the Sino-Indian balance of power in the region.

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