On February 5, a 15 day state of emergency was declared by President Abdulla Yameen of the Indian Ocean island nation of Maldives.
What happened: The decree was ordered after the Maldivian Supreme Court overturned the convictions of nine of Yameen’s political opponents and ordered the reinstatement of 12 legislators. The court declared that the unconstitutional arrests were the result of politically-motivated investigations. Meanwhile, the reinstatement of the 12 legislators, who defected from Yameen’s ruling party, would pose an imminent threat to his presidency as it would cost him his parliamentary majority and could lead to his impeachment.
So rather than accept the court’s ruling, Yameen declared a state of emergency which grants him all authorities to consolidate his power as November elections approach while shielding him from removal by sealing parliament.
Bit of Maldivian history: In 2012, President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of Maldives, was forced to resign by loyalists of former strongman President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Nasheed defeated Gayoom in the nation’s primary democratic election in 2008, ending Gayoom’s 30 year dictatorial reign.
President Nasheed is best internationally known for holding the world’s first underwater cabinet meeting in 2009, with all participants using scuba gear, to accentuate the risks of climate change. Later that year, at the 2009 UN Climate Change Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Nasheed pledged to make Maldives great again (well, not verbatim) as the world’s first carbon-neutral nation.
Nasheed claimed his 2012 resignation was the result of a gunpoint military coup. Two years later, he was elected president of the Maldivian Democratic Party, but just seven months after that, he was convicted of terrorist (politically-motivated, according to Amnesty International) charges and sentenced to 13 years in prison. He is currently exiled in the United Kingdom, yet has stated his desires to run in this year’s election.
Yameen won the 2013 Maldivian election, an election which opposition leaders have asserted was rigged. He has since presided over a democratic backsliding of the nation, including the curbing of free speech and imprisonment of political opponents.
Back to the State of Emergency: Security forces arrested two of the Supreme Court’s five sitting judges. The remaining three have since annulled the court’s decision to overturn the contested convictions.
Also arrested was Yameen’s estranged half-brother, the aforementioned former President Gayoom. Yameen was formerly a part of Gayoom’s government and Gayoom helped Yameen win the presidency in 2013, but a couple years later, Gayoom’s support ended and he joined the opposition.
Yameen also fired police chiefs who vowed uphold the court’s decision.
India/Chinese tensions: The ongoing incident could foreshadow tensions between China and India as China implements its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative across Eurasia and into Africa and Oceania.
Just off its coast, the Maldives has historically been aligned with India, but President Yameen has started to economically realign the nation more with China via infrastructure investments and trade deals.
Viewing this as a geospatial encroachment of influence, India has become uncomfortable with this Maldivian pivot. India, alongside the United States, has urged Yameen to accept the court’s ruling.
On the other hand, China has accepted that Maldives can restore order itself, and suggested that the crisis should be handled internally.
Update: On February 20, parliament voted to extend the state of emergency, fulfilling Yameen’s request to do so. That vote has been constitutionally challenged as lacking quorum.
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Source URL: Medium