Three powerful public figures in the Maldives say they are victims of a murky political witch-hunt by President Abdulla Yameen, who, ironically, wouldn’t have been in office without their support in the controversial ousting of former President Mohamed Nasheed three years ago.
Gasim Ibrahim, resort tycoon and leader of the Jumhooree Party, alleges that he has received death threats and that his business interests are being hurt. Earlier this month, his party severed ties with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
Mohamed Nazim, meanwhile, was until last month the defence minister, but he was sacked on charges of “treason” after police raided his home. Authorities claimed he was in possession of a 9mm pistol, bullets, and improvised explosive device. Nazim’s lawyers say he was framed, implying that the firearms were planted by police.
Earlier, in December, Ahmed Faiz Hussain was removed as chief justice of the Supreme Court on the grounds of “incompetence,” although that allegation was never substantiated. “Today will be written down as a black day in the constitutional history of the Maldives. I state this is a black day for the constitution,” he said after his removal.
Until recently, all three were seen as on Yameen’s side in the country’s political divide. That divide is fed by an ideological clash between pro-democracy, moderate Muslims, represented mostly by Nasheed, and those in the camp of former authoritarian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – like his half-brother Yameen – who call for conservative Islam to dominate politics and society.
Three years ago, Gasim was among the three powerful figures who were seen as the main actors in the overthrowing of Nasheed, who became president in 2008 after three decades of rule by Gayoom.
Nasheed claimed that “police officers and army personnel loyal to the old government mutinied and forced me, at gunpoint, to resign” on February 7, 2012.
Mohammed Waheed, Nasheed’s deputy at the time, backed the mutinying police in a speech telecast on the VTV channel, which is owned by Gasim. After Nasheed’s exit, Waheed laid claim to the office of the president.
Around the same time, Aishath Azima Shukoor, an attorney general under Gayoom’s rule, sought to convince Chief Justice Faiz Hussain to support a petition urging the Supreme Court to validate Nasheed’s ouster, according to a leaked document allegedly signed by then opposition political parties.
Gasim was also allegedly part of the team that lobbied the apex court, which reportedly agreed in principle to the opposition’s plea.
Playing his part, Nazim issued an ultimatum to Nasheed, demanding his immediate resignation on the day of the alleged coup. And he received his reward. He was made defence minister under Waheed, and was retained by Yameen.
Then, during the presidential election in 2013, when Nasheed won nearly 47 percent of the votes, just short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory, Gasim went to the Supreme Court alleging irregularities – although international observer groups found the election free and fair. The court annulled the election results, which helped the Gayoom camp to delay the election until Yameen’s victory could be assured.
Even as Gasim, Nazim and Faiz Hussain continue to complain, perhaps regretting their support for Yameen, Gayoom and his supporters publicly celebrated the third anniversary of Nasheed’s resignation.
On February 7, Gayoom tweeted: “Happy 7th February to all patriotic Maldivians! Let us move forward in unity n peace!” Home Minister Umar Naseer followed suit, saying, “… A proud day for Maldives, Islam and the constitution…”
The Maldives claims to have a 100 percent Muslim population, and bans dissemination of any idea that contradicts Islam. True democracy could possibly change that status quo, and it is that fear which drives conservatives to keep a tight lid on civil and political rights.
The international community issues statements condemning the subversion of democracy and violations of human rights in the Maldives, but is careful to keep whoever is at the helm of the archipelago on their friends’ list. After all, the Maldives lies close to vital sea lanes in the Indian Ocean, where China is seeking greater influence.
As for the tens of thousands of tourists who visit the Maldives on their dream vacations every year, they only see the blue sea and white sand beaches, far removed from the political hothouse of Malé, the national capital.