India in Maldives: Big Brother Must Deliver
India has been again pitched into the centre of political controversies in the Indian Ocean atoll nation of Maldives one year after the so called, “coup,’ in Male on 7 February 2012. After adjudicating in favour of the current government led by President Mohamed Waheed a year ago by accepting deposing of Waheed’s predecessor Mohamed Nasheed as a non coercive transfer of power, India may be set to reverse its backing after Nasheed sought refuge in the Indian High Commission in Male on 13 February. Facing imminent arrest and prosecution by a body that the former President Mohamed Nasheed feels is biased against him, he has taken recourse to shelter in the Indian embassy. The move was on expected lines as Nasheed had been sending feelers to the Indian side for some time now and was just back from a visit to that country. The plan to enter the Indian High Commission may well have been hatched during his visit to India, one never knows.
Nasheed tweeted that he has taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Male. "Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives," Nasheed said on social networking site Twitter. The Hulhumale Magistrate Court on 12 February ordered the police to produce Nasheed in court for the hearing scheduled for 4.00pm on 13 February. The entry to the Indian High Commission prevented the police from arresting the former President even though the government claimed that he would have been produced before the Court and then released, Nasheed and his law team was taking no chances.
Indian Ministry of External Affairs was quick in issuing a statement giving out the factual position. “Following the arrest warrant issued against him by the Hulhumale Magistrate Court, the former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who is a candidate for the Presidential elections in Maldives scheduled for September 2013, is in the Indian High Commission and has sought India’s assistance. We are in touch with the relevant Maldivian authorities to resolve the situation”, said the Press Release.
India also called for allowing all contestants to participate in the elections announced for 7 September 2013. As a paternal advise the Ministry Press Release went on to add, “As a close and friendly neighbour, India has expressed concern over the ongoing political instability in Maldives and called upon the Government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections. Now that the President of the Election Commission of Maldives has announced that Presidential elections would be held on 7 September 2013, it is necessary that the Presidential nominees of recognized political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance. Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives. This is not in the interest of Maldives or the region. India would call upon the Government and all political parties in Maldives to avoid any actions that would vitiate the political atmosphere in the Maldives”. The message was clear for all to read but abiding may take some suave arm twisting.
With Presidential elections in the country with a large area but with only 200,000 plus voters slated for September intense political maneouvrings were anticipated. The aim of arresting former President Mohamed Nasheed is allegedly to keep him out of the elections. He is facing trial over the arrest of Chief Criminal Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
A key issue is legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court which was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and is trying Nasheed. As per Minivan news web site, Nasheed’s lawyers have questioned the legitimacy of the Hulhumale court on legal as well as constitutional grounds. The seven-member Supreme Court bench has ruled on the court’s legitimacy in a split verdict of four judges to three. The JSC has also appointed a three-member panel of judges to oversee the trial of the former president which includes two of the President’s direct opponents says Minivan. Under the circumstances Mr Nasheed was not hopeful of justice.
What influence India can exercise in the highly surcharged political atmosphere in Male where institutions of the state including judiciary and the security forces have been politically polarized remains to be seen? Even if a temporary compromise is achieved the political truce will at best remain tendentious. Maldives may see instability in the short to medium term till maturation of democracy implying not just free and fair elections but institutional independence and apolitical security forces emerge.