A honeymoon destination known for its azure seas, pristine beaches and romantic overwater bungalows is in disarray as its government locks up the president’s opponents, defies the orders of the supreme court and suspends its constitution.
How did the Maldives, an archipelago made up of more than 1,000 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, unravel?
It starts with allegations of corruption
Political opponents of President Abdulla Yameen petition the supreme court on Jan. 29 to investigate allegations of corruption and human rights abuses and to remove him temporarily from power. Opposition leaders accuse Yameen, elected in 2013, of stealing more than $1 million of state funds, including tourism revenues, Yameen denies the allegations.
Add to the roiling pot a family feud. Yameen, 58, is the estranged half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 80, who sided with the opposition and was arrested a week later.
A few days later, the supreme court throws out the convictions of nine of Yameen’s political opponents and the terrorism conviction of another former president, Mohamed Nasheed, further threatening Yameen’s hold on power.
Nasheed is the same president that human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney, went to bat for in 2016, lobbying in London for him to be freed from jail and in Washington for sanctions against the Maldives.
Nasheed said in a recent statement that Yameen “has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power.” He asked India to send in its military to oust Yameen.
The president is fighting back
Not surprisingly, Yameen complains that the opposition is “seeking to overthrow a legitimate government,” according to Al Jazeera.
Afraid he’s losing power and up for re-election later this year, he issues a 15-day state of emergency.
Then, on Feb. 6, Yameen starts arresting supreme court justices, including the chief justice Abdulla Saeed. Yameen’s actions prompts an international outcry.
The U.S. expresses its disappointment, saying Yameen “has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected Members of Parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature, revised laws to erode human rights, especially freedom of expression, and weakened the institutions of government.”
Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ top human rights official, calls Yameen’s actions “tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy.” He calls on the Maldives government to lift the state of emergency.
Instead, a few days ago, on Feb. 20, the country’s parliament approves a 30-day extension of the state of emergency, citing a continuing national security threat and constitutional crisis. The opposition boycotts the vote and the Maldives prosecutor general declares the extension unconstitutional, Reuters reports, citing two officials working in her office.
The honeymoon’s over
The same day Yameen arrests his judges, the State Department decides the Maldives isn’t your best bet for sun and surf right now. It issues a a travel advisory calling on visitors to exercise greater caution “due to terrorism and civil unrest.”
In 2016, nearly 1.3 million tourists visited the Maldives. The government says tourism and hospitality account for 23% of the archipelago’s GDP and make up a third of the government’s revenue.
The Maldives is so popular that even the royal couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, spent a few romantic days in Maldives before their 2014 tour of New Zealand and Australia.
Now tour operators say hundreds of hotel bookings have been canceled every day since the state of emergency began. The government, however, says come on over, the water’s fine at the resorts away from the capital Malé, Reuters reports.
What happens next?
The country’s electoral commission says the first round of presidential elections will be held in early September. The second round, if needed, would be held within 21 days of the election, according to the Maldives independent.
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