Mohamed Nasheed, the exiled former President of the Maldives, said on Friday he hoped to contest presidential polls this year, following a surprise Supreme Court ruling that ordered his immediate release.
“Now that all my civil and political rights have been restored, I will be able to contest elections,” he told The Hindu in Colombo.
The Maldives witnessed turmoil on Friday, after the Supreme Court late on Thursday nullified the convictions of Mr. Nasheed and eight others, terming their trials “questionable and politically motivated”. Mr. Nasheed was barred from contesting any election in the Maldives after his controversial 2015 conviction on a terrorism charge.
The development, in the wake of growing allegations of corruption and authoritarianism against President Abdulla Yameen, sparked violent clashes in Male between police and large groups of dissidents. While opposition supporters demanded immediate implementation of the ruling, police used force to disperse the crowd, local sources said.
“The police pepper-sprayed many of us. They were trying to disperse the crowd that had assembled spontaneously in a show of solidarity and to celebrate the verdict,” Rushdha Rasheed, a journalist of Raajje TV, present at the rally, told The Hindu over telephone.
The Supreme Court in its ruling observed that the earlier trials were a violation of the Constitution and international law. The apex court has ordered new trials.
In an official statement issued on Friday morning, the government said it would “vet and clarify” the ruling. On Friday evening, the international spokesperson at the President’s office, Ibrahim Hussain Shihab, said the administration had “shared its concerns” with the Chief Justice over the ruling.
In a press briefing held in Male, Attorney General Uz. Mohamed Anil assured the media that the administration was working with all relevant authorities of the state, to carry out the speedy implementation of the Supreme Court ruling. However, the government is yet to implement the order, according to sources in Male.
India urged the Maldives government to “respect” the verdict. “In the spirit of democracy and rule of law, it is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court. We also hope that the safety and security of the Indian expatriates in Maldives will be ensured by the Maldivian authorities under all circumstances,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press release.
Meanwhile, President Yameen dismissed the Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Areef. According to opposition sources and local media reports, the top cop tried to take measures to implement the ruling on Friday, even as some within the police and military reportedly resisted it. Asked about the Commissioner’s sudden removal, the President’s office confirmed the move, but did not give a reason.
On the apparent reluctance of the Yameen administration to act on the ruling, Mr. Nasheed said: “President Yameen knows that if he implements it, we [the Opposition] would have a majority in Parliament. He is reluctant because he does not want to contest elections against me.”
Mr. Nasheed has been living in London since 2016, after the U.K. granted him political asylum. The likely re-entry of Mr. Nasheed foretells a significant change in politics in Male, especially at a time when opposition forces were finding it hard to field a candidate to fight Mr. Yameen in polls.
Male has been buzzing with the prospect of some change for some time now, political sources in Male said, particularly after Opposition forces began working closely with each other in the last year.
In Mr. Nasheed’s view, while a “combination of factors” were likely to have prompted the court ruling, the “last straw” was a recent raid on a resort run by Gasim Ibrahim, a prominent Opposition politician and a high-profile businessman. Critics said the raid was politically motivated.
“Moreover, people have begun realising that there is a strong radical Islamist strand within the government, the deep state. China’s growing debt trap in the island is also concerning many, about the Maldives possibly relinquishing the country’s sovereignty to China,” he said.
Observing that India’s statement on the development was “very welcome”, Mr. Nasheed said India must not only be “more closely engaged” with Male, but also watch the developments closely and make sure the rule of law is upheld in the Maldives.
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Source URL: The Hindu