After declaring the 15 day state of emergency, Maldives government has arrested two Supreme Court judges and an opposition leader. The row between President Abdulla Yameen and the Supreme Court erupted over releasing several imprisoned opposition politicians.
President Yameen expressed that the Supreme Court ruling that overturned “terrorism” convictions against nine of his opponents was illegal; later, he sent soldiers into the Supreme Court building and ordered the arrest of the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who, according to reports, has sided with the opposition.
Maldives presidential election will be held in November this year. The opposition declared that a free and fair election cannot be held if the President Yameen stays in office, therefore, according to opposition parties, the current president should be removed from the office to conduct a ‘free and fair’ election. And the political crisis, which in being exploded right now in Maldives, will energize and strengthen the opposition’s position in domestic political arena. A grave dissatisfaction against the present president is brewing domestically.
Maldives, a South Asian island county, is populated with of 98% Muslims. It is located in the Indian Ocean, situated in the Arabian Sea. It lies southwest of Sri Lanka and India. India has invested its huge security assets to Maldives since she wants Maldives into her security grid. Maldives is also a lucrative country for Chinese envisioned maritime silk route project. China is building a $1.4 billion massive port facility in Colombo, Sri Lanka and if China builds ports in Maldives, those ports will complement each other in forming strategies favoring Chinese assertion in the region. On the other hand, the US wants to strengthen its defense partnership with India to counter the growing influence of China. As the maritime super power, the main focus of the US in the Indo-Pacific is to preserve the status of freedom of navigation the U.S. Navy depends on to safeguard commercial and energy routes.
Maldives’ exiled former president and the opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed has asked for Indian military intervention. Mohammad Nasheed said in a statement, “On behalf of Maldivian people we humbly request: India to send envoy, backed by its military, to release judges & political detainees… We request a physical presence.” He also called on Washington to impose a freeze on all financial transactions of government officials.
As a response, India reacted strongly to the unrest. The Indian Ministry of External Affairs said, “It is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court.” On the other hand, the US and the UN also urged Yameen government to respect laws and democratic institutions.
In a report published in Russian state sponsored media Sputnik news, Professor Dai Yonghong at Sichuan University’s Center of South Asian Studies said, “What is going on in the Maldives is an internal affair of that country. China and India should accept greater responsibility for what is going on, but they should stay away from any direct interference and respect the country’s government effort to find a mutually-acceptable solution to the crisis.”
According to an editorial of Chinese communist party mouth piece Global Times, Yameen’s government signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with China and joined the Belt and Road initiative (BRI) and that infuriated New Delhi. Global times also suggested that Maldives’ sovereignty should be respected and China will not accept any foreign meddling in Maldives crisis.
A UN group recently states, “It is clear that the rule of law in the Maldives is now under siege. We call on the government to refrain from any threats or interference that may hamper the court’s independence as the supreme guardian of the country’s constitution and legislation.” The group also says, “This direct attack on the Supreme Court undermines its legitimacy and independence, and casts serious doubt on its ability to protect constitutional principles and to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
It is clear by now that Britain, the US and the United Nations share India’s view of the Maldives developments and they are increasing international pressure on Yameen’s government. It is also reported in several international media that, the US President Donald Trump had discussed the situation with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
India’s primary geopolitical imperative is to maintain dominance over South Asia. But India is losing its influence in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Bangladesh. The reason is China’s booming infrastructure projects in South Asia. Regarding Maldives, The Indian Government expressed concern about the growing Chinese influence including China’s intention to set up military base in Marao.
It is apparent that India and the US have the same rival in the Indo-pacific region although they have not formulated a unified strategy to contain China. But it seems that, the US and India jointly supporting the opposition forces in Maldives with the help of the Maldivian judicial system. And if they succeed, the US-India bond will be stronger than before; otherwise China may gain an important foot hold close to Indian water for her maritime vision.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.