Maldives plunged into a new political crisis with the arrest of the former President Mohamed Nasheed on Monday. Police arrested Nasheed after he refused to abide by the court’s order asking him to appear in connection with the charges that he had illegally ordered the arrest of a judge early this year when he was the President. The former President also violated a travel ban the court had placed upon him.
Nasheed was the first democratically elected President of the island nation who resigned from office in February under heavy pressure from the security forces in what many called “a bloodless coup.”
The former human right activist became President in 2008 after defeating the Asia’s longest-serving leader at the time, Islamist President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in a popularly contested election.
According to media reports, Nasheed will be disqualified from running for office again if he is convicted of the charges and sentenced to more than a year in prison. Nasheed has been campaigning for the upcoming general elections that are scheduled for early 2013, and has been trying to mobilize popular opinion against the group of Islamist parties that he believes is responsible for his unceremonious ousting.
Nasheed has a long history of being on the wrong side of the political establishment and this would not be in his first time in prison. In fact, “the Mandela of Maldives,” as Nasheed’s supporters sometimes call him, was imprisoned more than twenty times for his vocal opposition to former President Gayoom.
News of Nasheed’s arrest in 2005 sparked widespread social unrest throughout the nation that finally ended when Nasheed ousted Gayoom in the 2008 election.
Nasheed’s arrest on Monday is expected to spark violence in several parts of the archipelago. However, the situation this time around is quite a bit different. A guilty verdict would almost certainly dash any hopes of him returning to power in the upcoming presidential election, and could very well be the end of his political career.
But the larger issue is not Nasheed’s arrest per se, but rather the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in this predominantly Islamic country that has recently seen radicalism on the rise.
Analysts contend that the country’s multi-party democracy is reeling with the premature demise of the democratically elected government and the subsequent political persecution of Nasheed. The diminutive leader was the voice of democracy and liberalism in the country.
Nasheed blames former President Gayoom and his Islamist coalition partners for the country’s troubles. Many fear that if the archipelago continues on its current trajectory, it risks being overtaken by radical Islam. Already there are concerns being raised about the liberal trade and tourism policy that is the mainstay of the Maldivian economy.
“Political uncertainty has been prevailing in Maldives for some time now. Nasheed's problems began when his party failed to get a majority in the Maldivian parliament after the 2009 general elections. Nasheed wanted to relax strict Islamic laws to promote tourism, which is the largest foreign exchange earner for the country. However, his attempt to step-up facilities for tourism was defeated because of the assertion by the religious right and the judiciary”, says Nand Kumar of the New Delhi-based think tank, Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses.
With the arrest of the former President, the future of democracy in the country is uncertain at best. India, which enjoys great leverage in Maldives, stands accused of letting the situation drift this far in a strategically important nation in the Indian Ocean.