Another One Bites The Dust Amidst Internal Strife
The week that went by was not sweet music to President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s ears. The riots and resultant resignation of the President of Maldives surprised many in Sri Lanka, but it was on the boil in the archepelago for sometime. More of that later. Further to this external turmoil was the full blown sabre rattling between Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne and his Deputy Felix Perera that brought the internal strife in the UPFA government to the attention of President Rajapaksa. Though such skirmishes have been prevalent in the past, the level of acrimony was not lost on the electorate.
Maldives In Turmoil
The Maldives’ first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, resigned on Tuesday, February 7, after a police mutiny described by President Nasheed’s office as an attempted coup. This was after three continuous weeks of political upheaval in the holiday paradise. President Nasheed was the first democratically elected President of Maldives after a thiry year reign of former President M. Abdul Gayoom who ruled in the fashion of a monarch. Though President Nasheed was elected to this high office, he did not enjoy a majority in parliament. A recipe for disaster. Unlike in Sri Lanka, there were no defections to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) from the opposition.
The Maldivians voted Maumoon Abdul Gayoom out of office in the 2008 presidential elections. The parliamentary elections that followed was held on a first past the post system. Mohamed Nasheed affectionately called “Anni” was elected President in 2008 with much hope riding on him to uphold democracy in this paradise archipelago. Though Gayoom lost his position as president his party the DRP secured 28 seats to the 26 won by Nasheed’s MDP at the 2009 parliamentary elections. The table shows the breakdown of seats.
Bubble Waiting To Burst
The fractured result did not allow President M. Nasheed to govern with comfort. The Parliament (Majlis) was controlled by the opposition. Not a single bill was passed during the last two years which is a reflection of the divisive politics in this collection of paradise islands.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom the former President never gave up his ambition to make a comeback though his party cadres did not wish to go back to the days of a tyrannical rule. The power plays within the opposition parties have left many contenders licking their lips along the sidelines. Given this scenario it was a bubble waiting to burst.
The Maldives has struggled to bring the use of narcotics among it’s youth under control. The narcotics trade is big business and the law enforcement authorities have few answers due to the easy and varied accessibility to the myriad of atolls. The number of youth using narcotics is deemed to be as high as thirty five percent. The Maldives attracts a near full complement of tourists at the high end but the small local population have not enjoyed the fruits of this boom though the blame cannot be laid at the feet of deposed President Nasheed. It was Gayoom who set the trend to avoid the trickle down of benefits from the tourism boom. The Maldives was the beneficiary of the lackadaisical attitude to tourism by Sri Lankan politicians of yesteryear.
Arrest of Judge
Early January saw the opposition parties pushing President Nasheed aka ‘Anni’ against the wall. It was on January 16, that the Police carried out an order said to have been initiated by Nasheed the then President, to arrest Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohammed and the Vice President of the DQP, lawyer Dr Mohammed Jameel Ahmed (later to be made a Minister). The MDP supporters staged a protest outside the residence of the judge urging the police to arrest him which led to the perception that President Nasheed was initiating this saga. The gauntlet was thrown. The reasons for the arrest and being held incommunicado were not made public and the opposition seized the moment and carried out a series of protests. Six sitting judges of the criminal courts visited a defiant Abdulla Mohammed at K. Girifushi to map out a plan of action to get him released.
A successful application was made in the High Court by the Judicial Services Commission to present Judge Abdulla Mohammed before the Court but neither the Military (MNDF) nor the Police heeded this order. The High Court Judge Azmiralda Zahid, issued a warning and subsequently ordered the heads of the Police and the Military to appear in Court.
In the case by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) against Judge Abdulla Mohamed, Judge Azmiralda Zahir said that the case could not be continued in the absence of Judge Abdulla or a representative for his defence.
Judge Azmiralda Zahir also said that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) had previously failed to comply with the order to present Judge Abdulla in court and has not reported the reasons behind the failure to do so.
She also noted that a Court session was scheduled to hear the explanation of the failure by MNDF to present Judge Abdulla in Court but both parties had failed to show up in Court on more than one ocassion. She also added that disobeying a direct Court order was disrespectful of the judicial system and that the Court would not hesitate to take strict legal action.
MNDF had ignored two separate orders issued for the release of Judge Abdulla following his detention by MNDF since the 16th of last month and had also failed to present Judge Abdulla in the two Court hearings on the behavioral issues raised by the JSC against the Judge.
The series of anti-government protests went out of control when the opposition parties clashed with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members at an artificial beach. The Police Commissioner Ahamed Faseer and the MNDF Chief Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel were summoned by Parliament to be present on the January 22, to explain their conduct.
Meanwhile the protests continued with the MDP supporters of President Nasheed and an amalgam of the opposition taking confrontational positions. Upto this point the Police and the Military were trying to quell disturbances without resorting to strong arm tactics. The two sides continued to disturb normal civilian life. The Speaker of the Parliament tried to bring the two sides together in peaceful resolution without success. It was soon apparent that democratic means were not going to break the impasse.
Nasheed Forced To Resign
By early February the unrest was building up into a more serious conflict. The Police and the Military were under increasing pressure. Backroom deals were rife and the opposition was gaining ground. The Police and the Military shifted their neutral stance by February 7, and pushed President Nasheed to resign. Having no choice Anni went public with his resignation. The Maldivian Vice President Mohamed Wahid Hassan was sworn in as the new President in double quick time. Deposed President Nasheed called upon the new President to bring normalcy but the protests from both divisions did not reduce. Bottles of alcohol said to be in the official residence of the ex-President were photographed and released to discredit Nasheed.
Interestingly, President Waheed does not have a single MP from his party in Parliament. The next elections are due only in November 2013. President Waheed intends to continue till then. Yoosuf said police were planning a “joint operation with the armed forces” to bring the situation under control.”
Taking no chances the new President swore in two cabinet ministers and charged them with the responsibility of quelling the disturbances. Initially there were reports that deposed President Nasheed would be arrested but such an order was slow in coming and this made the MDP supporters continue with their protests. Anni challenged the new President to dissolve parliament and call for fresh elections but Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was not interested.
Supporters of Nasheed along with MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik, Chairperson of MDP Maariya Ahmed Didi and Anni were demostrating along a shopping area with the intent of moving into the Republic Square on February 8, when the Police used force to disperse the crowd. The three above mentioned politicians were unceremoniously removed from the scene by armed policemen. MP Moosa was injured and was later flown to Colombo for medical treatment though information was that he too was amongst those blacklisted from leaving the mainland.
The Ex-President’s wife Laila and her two daughters were flown to Colombo for safety.
Meanwhile the world was watching aghast at the spectacle that was unfolding in this rich tourist’s paradise. The UN sent a mission on February 9, headed by Asst. Secretary of Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez Tarantino to the Maldives to assist in bringing political normalcy.
The US Asst. Secretary of State for West and South Asia Robert Blake was expected to visit Maldives in addition to his visit to Sri Lanka.
The international allies Mahinda Rajapaksa embraced have either fallen or are facing troubled times. Ghadaffi of Libya, Mubarak of Egypt, Nasheed of the Maldives and Rafsanjani in Iran, to name just a few.
The new President has made urgent cabinet appointments to try and contain the violence that has spread across the nation since his predecessor said he was forced to resign as a result of a coup. President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik appointed retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim as Defence Minister and lawyer Mohamed Jameel Ahmed as Home Minister, presidential aide Mohamed Shareef said on February 9. “Even though the appointment of a national unity cabinet is taking time, the President made these two urgent appointments to take charge and control the spread of violence since Wednesday evening,” Shareef said. He accused Nasheed of inciting his supporters to unleash “anarchy” on the streets. He claimed that police stations were torched and other government buildings were damaged by protesters loyal to Nasheed.
Maldivian police declined to give details of any casualties, but denied media reports that as many as three people may have been killed in the unrest. Police Chief Inspector Abdul Mannan Yoosuf confirmed that violence in the capital had spread to far flung atolls, but added that tourist resorts were unaffected. The protests and counters rage on.
Rajitha Takes On Felix
With Fisheries Minister Rajitha Senaratne using a government controlled TV channel to vent his fury at a private radio channel for targetting him, the internal battles of the UPFA cabinet have spilt into the open. Rajitha was a member of the late Vijaya Kumaratunge’s SLMP and so was the late Bharatha Lukshman Premachandra. Bharatha Luckshman crossed over to the SLFP first and then Rajitha who had joined the UNP crossed over to the SLFP. Their friendship goes back a long way and Rajitha along with some senior SLFPers canvassed for Bharatha’s nominee at the ill-fated local government elections in Kolonnawa late last year.
The private channel run by Duminda Silva’s family has targetted Rajitha politically and the Fisheries Minister has retaliated. (See interview elsewhere in this paper). It was natural for Rajitha to support Bharatha which was not to the liking of Duminda Silva’s family. Rajitha’s Deputy Minister Felix Perera is a vocal critic of the Minister and defends Duminda Silva in this battle. Rajitha did not spare Felix either.
President Turns Blind Eye
President Rajapaksa has turned a blind eye and allowed the two factions to slug it out in the open. Another internal issue which was also allowed to fester out in the open is the one where Mervyn Silva is being targetted by his own Pradeshiya Sabha members. The opposition to the government seems to be coming from within and is considered a natural progression with the political opposition being divided and drained.
Whether President Rajapaksa reins in his fractured family members to pull together or allows old wounds to fester, or whether an implosion is on the horizon is anybody’s fair guess.