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The government of the Maldives is struggling to stay afloat – The Economist

THE resorts for which the Maldives are famous may be havens of tranquillity, but Malé, the country’s capital city, is a chaotic place. In addition to the extreme density of the population and the frenzy of the traffic, Maldivian politics have become especially turbulent.

As MPs from the ruling party defected to the opposition, the government lost its majority in the Majlis, or parliament. It managed to cling to power first by getting some of the opposition ejected from the chamber, and later by deploying the army to prevent them from returning. The government has also rewritten the rules on no-confidence motions to shore up its position. The courts have helped by stripping some opposition MPs of their seats and by arrogating to themselves the final say on the impeachment of the president, in apparent contradiction of the constitution. One parliamentary session was even cancelled after someone lit a fire in the toilets.Politics in the Maldives, an archipelago of 400,000 people in the Indian Ocean, has been in a constant state of flux since Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the strongman of 30 years, allowed a contested presidential election in 2008. He lost to Mohamed Nasheed, a pro-democracy activist. Mr Nasheed resigned in 2012 (under duress, he says), and then lost the subsequent presidential election to Abdulla Yameen, Mr Gayoom’s half-brother. Mr Yameen is now four years into his five-year term. He has survived an assassination attempt, rows with assorted vice-presidents and a huge corruption scandal (he blames one of his veeps). Last year he even fell out with Mr Gayoom. Mr Gayoom, in turn, joined forces in March with Mr Nasheed, his former nemesis, who lives in exile after being sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on trumped-up terrorism charges.

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Politics in the Maldives, an archipelago of 400,000 people in the Indian Ocean, has been in a constant state of flux since Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the strongman of 30 years, allowed a contested presidential election in 2008. He lost to Mohamed Nasheed, a pro-democracy activist. Mr Nasheed resigned in 2012 (under duress, he says), and then lost the subsequent presidential election to Abdulla Yameen, Mr Gayoom’s half-brother. Mr Yameen is now four years into his five-year term. He has survived an assassination attempt, rows with assorted vice-presidents and a huge corruption scandal (he blames one of his veeps). Last year he even fell out with Mr Gayoom. Mr Gayoom, in turn, joined forces in March with Mr Nasheed, his former nemesis, who lives in exile after being sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on trumped-up terrorism charges.

The new opposition alliance did well in local elections in May. Pro-government rallies, meanwhile, are attended mainly by press-ganged civil servants and young men paid to join in. Mr Gayoom, who should know, recently declared, “Dictatorships will always fail.”But Mr Yameen’s position is strong. Although the opposition continues to seek redress in the courts, it is not getting anywhere. Indeed the Supreme Court recently declared that MPs who switch parties—hitherto a common practice—would henceforth lose their seats. This week the police recommended that prosecutors charge Mr Gayoom’s son, Faris, with bribing MPs to take the opposition’s side.

But Mr Yameen’s position is strong. Although the opposition continues to seek redress in the courts, it is not getting anywhere. Indeed the Supreme Court recently declared that MPs who switch parties—hitherto a common practice—would henceforth lose their seats. This week the police recommended that prosecutors charge Mr Gayoom’s son, Faris, with bribing MPs to take the opposition’s side.Increasing authoritarianism has been accompanied by heightened violence in what used to be a sleepy archipelago. Two murders in a week last month led opposition MPs to demand parliamentary oversight of the police. The brutal killing in April of Yameen Rasheed, an outspoken blogger who had received many death threats but no protection from the authorities, brought international condemnation. The police have blamed Muslim extremists, not a reassuring prospect if true.

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Increasing authoritarianism has been accompanied by heightened violence in what used to be a sleepy archipelago. Two murders in a week last month led opposition MPs to demand parliamentary oversight of the police. The brutal killing in April of Yameen Rasheed, an outspoken blogger who had received many death threats but no protection from the authorities, brought international condemnation. The police have blamed Muslim extremists, not a reassuring prospect if true.Mr Rasheed had been at the forefront of a campaign to secure justice for his close friend, Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist who was abducted outside his flat three years ago and has not been seen since. Earlier this month the police doused friends and relatives with pepper spray and then arrested them as they called for a fuller investigation of his disappearance. Two opposition MPs were among those detained.

Mr Rasheed had been at the forefront of a campaign to secure justice for his close friend, Ahmed Rilwan, a journalist who was abducted outside his flat three years ago and has not been seen since. Earlier this month the police doused friends and relatives with pepper spray and then arrested them as they called for a fuller investigation of his disappearance. Two opposition MPs were among those detained.

Mr Yameen briefly distracted attention from the political turmoil in early August by vowing to reinstate the death penalty. He also depicts himself as a champion of development. The government is building lots of new infrastructure, financed largely by loans from China and Saudi Arabia. But Mr Yameen will probably face growing opposition, and resort to more autocratic measures, to remain in control until the presidential election next November. That vote may prove the end, or the reaffirmation, of the Maldives’ ten-year experiment with democracy

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