Asia in Review Archive
Date of AiR edition
23 October 2018
Maldives: Supreme Court upholds presidential poll results
(jk) Last week, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen filed a legal petition with the Supreme Court challenging his significant election defeat alleging that the vote was rigged by the independent election commission. The Supreme Court has now ruled unanimously that there is not enough evidence supporting his claims. According to the Elections Commission, the September vote had been free and fair, with a turnout of just over 89%. [The Wire]
President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s party has in the meantime called on the police to issue a travel ban on Yameen to make sure he can face investigations in connection with graft cases that will be made against him. [The Wire II]
Earlier in the week, a High Court has also overturned a prison sentence against former long-term authoritarian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who was was jailed after he was accused of plotting to overthrow the government of his younger half-brother Yameen earlier this year. He was already released on bail right after the elections. Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for three decades prior to 2008, still faces some other charges relating to the alleged plot. [SCMP]
16 October 2018
Maldives president does not yet accept his defeat
(ls) The Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen filed a legal petition with the Maldives Supreme Court to challenge his landslide election defeat last month, alleging that the vote was rigged by the independent election commission. The election was won by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with 58.4 per cent of the vote. Yameen had reluctantly conceded defeat amid international pressure from regional superpower and immediate neighbour India and others. [South China Morning Post]
Under pressure from the United States, Europe and India, which is seeking to counter growing Chinese influence in the strategically positioned 1,200-island holiday paradise, Yameen said he would leave office on 17 November. In response to Yameen’s petition, the US – which like the European Union threatened sanctions if the elections were not free and fair – warned again it would react if Yameen does not go quietly. [Straits Times]
Meanwhile, former Maldivian foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said after a meeting with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that the Maldives and India need to regain mutual trust. Maumoon met Swaraj Saturday during an unofficial visit to India “on behalf of” former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. India’s ties with the Maldives came under pressure after Yameen, who was known to be close to China, declared emergency in the country on February 5, following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. [Economic Times]
9 October 2018
Maldives: Opposition leader returns home from exile in Germany
(jk) President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih welcomed an opposition leader back in the country after he had spent the past few months in Germany. He went into exile after he was sentenced to prison for attempting to overthrow the government of former leader Yameen Abdul Gayoom. Ibrahim, who has been allowed bail, is the first opposition leader to return to the Maldives. Former President Mohamed Nasheed is expected to return next month. He has previously been sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges. [SCMP]
2 October 2018
Belt and Road projects under scrutiny in Pakistan
(ls) Pakistan’s new government under Prime Minister Imran Khan is reconsidering several projects signed under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. A rail megaproject linking the Pakistani coastal metropolis of Karachi to the northwestern city of Peshawar is the subject of current review. Pakistan’s new government wants to review all BRI contracts. Officials say there are concerns the deals were badly negotiated, too expensive or overly favored China. However, they remained committed to Chinese investment, but wanted to push harder on price and affordability. The cooling of enthusiasm for China’s investments mirrors the unease of incoming governments in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Maldives, where new administrations have come to power wary of Chinese deals struck by their predecessors. [Reuters]
China has pledged US$57 billion to build power stations, major highways, new railways and high capacity ports along the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a key part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road plan to further tie China to Eurasia. The sustainability of Chinese projects has come under fresh scrutiny in recent months, as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in July warned that any potential International Monetary Fund (IMF) bailout for Pakistan’s troubled economy should not be used to pay off Chinese lenders. [Straits Times]
2 October 2018
Former Maldives president released from prison, following shock presidential election
(ls/jm) Since last week’s shock election result in the Maldives, in which incumbent president Yameen lost his re-election bid to opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih by more than 16 percentage points, several jailed opponents of former president Abdulla Yameen have already been released. Most recently, the Maldives High Court also granted bail to former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Yameen’s government had imprisoned a number of his critics including two former presidents, two Supreme Court judges, two vice presidents, two defense ministers, a number of opposition leaders, lawmakers, and a former chief prosecutor. [Reuters]
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was declared president-elect on Saturday. However, Yameen is due to remain in office until 17 November before Solih assumes the presidency. The official outcome of the September 23 polls was pushed back to allow legal challenges over the vote’s conduct. Nearly 90 per cent of the electorate of 262,135 turned out to vote, according to the official results. However, Yameen disputed the results, announcing a complaint to the Maldives Election Commission. [South China Morning Post 1]
The election result is likely to influence the island nation’s relations with China. A spokesman of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) referred to the Beijing-funded projects in the Maldives as “debt traps” and said they were the hallmarks of the corruption seen under president Yameen. It is expected that several infrastructure projects and economic deals, including the free-trade agreement with China signed last year, will be reviewed. [South China Morning Post 2]
25 September 2018
Maldives: Opposition candidate elected new president
(dql) In a surprise victory opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih from the Maldivian Democratic Party has won the Maldives’ presidential election against President Abdulla Yameen. According to provisional vote counting he obtained 134,616 votes to beat Yameen who received 96,132 and who conceded his defeat.
Maldives is of key strategic importance in the rivalry between China and India. Solih’s victory is believed to lead to loosening of the country’s close ties to China which Yameen had established under his presidency since 2013. [BBC]
18 September 2018
Asian countries on UN’s shameful list over attacks on human rights activists
(am) A number of Asian countries found themselves on the UN’s list of 38 “shameful” countries displaying an “alarming” level of harsh reprisals and intimidation against those who cooperate with the UN on human rights issues. [Reuters]
Pointed out are also practices of selective application of laws and new legislation that restrict or obstruct organisations from cooperating with the UN, including by limiting their funding capacity, especially from foreign donors.
Among the Asian countries listed with new cases are China, India, the Maldives, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand. Other countries listed are Colombia, Hungary, Israel, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela. [Times of India]
18 September 2018
Maldives: President Yameen under pressure over corruption allegations and draconian visa requirements for foreign journalist
(dql) Shortly ahead of the presidential elections, slated for this Sunday, Maldives president Yameen, who is seeking a second term, has come under pressure following findings of an investigation conducted by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project claiming his personal involvement in the country’s biggest corruption scandal, an 80 million USD scheme to lease out dozens of islands and lagoons to tourism developers without public tender revealed back in 2016. [Maldives Independent]
In the meanwhile, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demanded that the government eases “draconian” new visa measures viewed as an attempt to prevent foreign journalists from entering the country to cover the election and to “reduce scrutiny of (Yameen’s) unlawful and unconstitutional behavior.”
According to the new visa requirements journalists need a business visa to enter the country, for which they need a Maldivian sponsor, and submit forms giving details of previous employment, travel history, qualifications, bank account details and a police clearance certificate. Previously, journalists were able to receive visas on arrival. [Reuters]
11 September 2018
Maldives: Over 80 foreign observers for Maldives elections
(jm) Amid growing concerns among the opposition that the government will rig the upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for 23 September, Maldives’ Election Commission announced that the elections will be observed by over 80 different foreign parties. The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) will not be among those as both had declined invitations to observe the elections in response to the government’s refusal to release jailed political leaders. [Avas ]
Meanwhile, Maldives’ Foreign Ministry denounced the US government’s threats of possible sanctions in case the elections would fail to be fair and free “as an act of intimidation, imposing undue influence on the democratic processes of a sovereign state”.[South China Morning Post]
4 September 2018
India boycotts inauguration of the China-funded bridge in the Maldives
(jm) The Indian ambassador refused to follow an invitation to the inauguration of a Chinese-funded bridge in the Maldives. While Indian officials did not comment on the issue, other countries, like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, criticized the way their envoys were treated, saying that the Chinese representative’s car was the only one allowed to pass up to the venue. [Times of India]
28 August 2018
Concerns regarding coming elections in the Maldives
(jm) Human Rights Watch (HRW) expressed its concern over the coming presidential election in the Maldives on 23 September 2018 after police arrests of opposition activists. The NGO denounces a campaign of arrestation against those who criticize the government and an instrumentalization of the Election Commission that has made multiple changes and u-turns in regulating voter registration. [Human Rights Watch]
21 August 2018
Maldives struggling with foreign concerns over coming elections
(jm) With presidential polls approaching next month – 23rd September -, the Maldivian government reiterated its invitation to international observers to confirm that the polls will be free and fair amid concerns from the side of the US, India and the European Union. [Avas]
14 August 2018
Maldives: Maldives President reiterates “commitment” to capital punishment
(jm) Responding to public criticism of the government over the delay in implementing the death penalty, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom vowed in a public speech to re-introduce the enforcement of the death penalty in Sri Lanka once the procedure code would be completed. Since assuming office in 2013, Yameen has been pushing to enforce the death penalty. In 2014 the Maldives ended a six-decade long moratorium on capital punishment, with Yameen announcing the country would be ready for execution in September 2017. [Avas] [Maldives Independent]
7 August 2018
Maldives: Ruling party and opposition accusing each other of sabotaging the presidential polls
(jm) One month before the presidential elections, the ruling party’s secretary general has criticized the opposition for attempting sabotage the upcoming elections. Previously, the Defense Minister claimed on Facebook that he received credible reports of attempts to undermine peace and security in the Maldives. The opposition candidate Solih in return said that this was itself “a cheap attempt to either sabotage the upcoming presidential elections or to intimidate the public.” [Avas]
Moreover, the opposition accused the ruling party and Election Commission of scheming to disenfranchise voters by requesting thousands of people to re-register for the election and collecting these re-registration forms. [Maldives Independent]
7 August 2018
Maldives: Censorship over convicted political leaders
(jm) Two privately owned TV stations had to cut off their programs while they were broadcasting a video conference with the former president Mohamed Nasheed and JP leader Gasim Ibrahim. Indeed, the Home Ministry warned them of punitive actions if the stations kept promoting convicts. The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation had previously taken measures against one of these TV stations, including imposing a fine of MVR1 million (US$64,850), for airing a speech that was deemed defamatory towards President Abdulla Yameen. [Maldives Independent]
Moreover, following a call made by presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, some opposition’s supporters put up campaign posters in the capital Male on Friday including pictures representing some of the top leaders that have been convicted. The police threatened immediate action against such efforts to gather support using the image of convicted criminals. [Avas]
31 July 2018
Maldives extends deadline on return of Indian helicopters
(jm) The Maldives government has extended the deadline given to India to withdraw the second of two gifted military helicopters along with the 48-member crew. The Island Nation originally asked India to withdraw the second chopper by the end of June, after the first had been returned in May amid signs of the countries’ ties deteriorating. But it seems that Male is now trying to ease tensions by allowing India to leave the helicopter until December and use it along with its crew. There have been reports that Male has been concerned by the presence of Indian navy staff who are stationed in the Maldives for the maintenance of the choppers. [Avas]
24 July 2018
European Union’s warnings against Sri Lanka and the Maldives
(jm) EU ambassadors warned Sri Lanka on Monday against ending its 42-year moratorium on capital punishment and said the island risked losing trade concessions if it went ahead. Sri Lanka could lose the benefit of the generalized system of preferences (GSP Plus), which is a favorable tariff scheme to encourage developing nations to respect human rights. The system had been temporarily removed in 2010, but restored by the EU in 2017. [Ada Derana]
Meanwhile, The European Union (EU) decided to put pressure on the Maldives’ government in response to the political crisis that lasts since February in the Island Nation by threatening the application of sanctions. Though no sanctions are imposed yet, “this decision makes it possible, if the situation does not improve, to impose a travel ban and an asset freeze on relevant individuals and entities,” said the EU. The Maldives are reproached for breaching principles of democratic rule and separation of powers even though the presidential election should be held in a few months. [Reuters]
The Maldives’ government hailed victory after this decision, saying their efforts avoided sanctions from the EU. [Avas]
17 July 2018
Maldives parliament accepts amendment for stricter penal code
(jm) The Maldives parliament approved an amendment that makes changes to the local penal code. For example, punishment for most first-degree offenses has been increased as well as adding a new chapter for offenses under national security, including treason, “dethroning” the government or mutiny. Individuals convicted for treason will be barred for life from serving under any government or public entity. [Avas]
10 July 2018
Maldives parliament backs move to bar exiled leaders from presidential polls
(jm) The Maldivian ruling party finally passed an amendment to the country’s law on presidential elections. The original amendment regarded banning people with dual citizenship from the presidential election, but it was later amended to impose the same restriction on Maldivians who had been granted asylum abroad. Candidates can run for presidency only 10 years after having renounced the foreign citizenship or asylum, which excludes former president Nasheed and the opposition Jumhoory Party leader Gasim Ibrahim from the next polls in September.
The vote was boycotted by the opposition party. According to the constitution, a parliament vote on any matter requiring compliance by citizens shall only be undertaken when more than half of the total members of the parliament are present at the sitting at which the matter is voted upon. The quorum couldn’t be reached since the ruling party doesn’t have the majority in Parliament any more. After several requests, the speaker finally proposed to vote on the amendment anyway, referring to the “doctrine of necessity” based on two recent rulings of the Supreme Court that allowed the Parliament to extend the state of emergency in February without the required quorum. [Avas]
3 July 2018
Maldives: Changes to tighten eligibility criteria proposed three months ahead of polls
(jm) The Maldivian Parliament is discussing amendments to the Presidential Elections Act that aim at stricter eligibility criteria for the presidency. The Constitution currently states that “an elected leader must be Maldivian citizen born to parents who are Maldivian citizens and must not be a foreign citizen” whereas the amendments will add that “a Maldivian who has had dual citizenship will be barred from running in a presidential election for 10 years after renouncing foreign citizenship”. Other amendments were also discussed last week, such as banning individuals from running for the presidency if they have been granted asylum abroad (such as Ex-President Nasheed…). Many measure, which are being fast-tracked by the government, are allegedly aimed at ensuring a smooth victory for the current president. [Raajje, Maldives Independent]
26 June 2018
Maldives’ UNSC non-permanent seat: India voted against, ensured it lost
(jm) Indian-Maldivian ties could deteriorate further after the Times of India revealed that India may have worked to ensure that its island neighbor loses the vote for a seat at the United Nation Security Council. While Male has always claimed to be supported by India, it appeared that not only did India voted against the Maldives, but also that it worked to make sure Indonesia would get the seat. [The Times of India]
17 June 2018
India condemns Maldives over Ex-President Gayoom’s sentence
(am) India expressed its deep dismay over the Maldivian court sentencing the former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the chief justice of its Supreme Court to prison terms in what India criticized as an unfair trial (see above). India’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that this development had raised doubts about the sincerity of the Maldives to defend the rule of law and that it also called into question the credibility of the entire process of presidential elections scheduled for September this year.
Ties between the two countries have been tense for months [Maldives Independent 1] and India’s latest remarks are expected to further sour the relations. [The Times of India] [The Indian Express] [Maldives Independent 2]
17 June 2018
Indonesia voted into the UN Security Council
(ls) Starting on 1 January 2019, Indonesia will be a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the duration of two years. The country defeated the Maldives in the only contested election for a seat and will join the UN’s most powerful body along with Germany, Belgium, South Africa and the Dominican Republic. [The Washington Post]
17 June 2018
Maldives: Former president sentenced 19 months jail term, opposition parties coalition struggle for joint presidential candidate
(jm) A Maldives court sentenced former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (1978-2008), former Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed, accused of plotting to overthrow the government of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of the former president, to 19 months in prison each after it found them guilty of failing to corporate with police investigations. [News 1st]
Meanwhile, former President and winner of the presidential primaries of the Maldivian Democratic Party Nasheed announced to meet Jumhooree Party leader Ibrahim’s demand to renounce to run for presidency and let the opposition parties’ coalition find a sustainable candidate in the upcoming September presidential election. Nasheed’s move comes after rumors had spread that the coalition was struggling to maintain unity regarding the nomination of a joint presidential candidate. [Avas]
10 June 2018
Maldives/India: Deterioration of bilateral ties
(jm) The Maldivian government asked India to remove its second ‘gift’ naval chopper after it requested the same for the first helicopter 2 months ago. The island nation doesn’t feel comfortable with the presence of Indian navy staff who are stationed for the maintenance. These choppers were gifted by India for maritime surveillance but were located in Laamu and Addu. It is believe that China is considering planning ports there. [The Times of India]
At the same time, the majority leader of the Maldivian parliament was denied entry into India. He was accused of “bullying” the Indian nation. [The Wire]
These two events reflect the current deterioration of the bilateral ties between the two countries.
10 June 2018
Maldives: Former President receives ‘ticket’ for presidential election
(dql) The presidential ticket from biggest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been officially handed to former president Mohamed Nasheed, who had overwhelmingly won the party’s primary, despite a court order to cease the primary and efforts of the police to stop the elections, after the Election Commission had deemed the primary unconstitutional because Nasheed is a convict subjected to serve a 13 year jail sentence. Following Nasheed’s victory, rumors spread that the Election Commission was intending to dissolve the (MDP) over what it has described as an illegal presidential primary to pick self-exiled former president Nasheed for the upcoming presidential elections scheduled for September 23. Dispersing these rumors, a member of the Election Commission clarified a few days after the primary that the Commission has no desire to dissolve any political party, but warned that repeated legal infringements could ultimately force its hand. [Avas 1] [Avas 2]
3 June 2018
Maldives: EC rejects ‘illegal’ MDP primary, vows action
(jm) Despite the efforts made by the police to stop the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) primary election after a court ordered to do so, nearly 44 000 members of the party voted on Wednesday in favor of the former President Nasheed to run for presidency. The Election Commission repealed the next day that this poll was illegal as Nasheed is barred from presidency because of its 13-year sentence. It added that sanctions will be taken soon against MDP. [Avas]
27 May 2018
Maldives: Struggle between Election Commission and major opposition party over nomination for presidential primaries
(jm) As the main opposition party will hold its presidential primary on May 30, the only candidate, self-exiled former President Nasheed, submitted his candidacy papers to the Electoral Commission (EC). This, he did despite being legally barred from doing so under the Constitution and the Jails and Parole law due to his – controversial – conviction to a 13-year prison sentence for terrorism. In response, the EC announced to reject any candidate that would not meet required qualification criteria and went even further by threatening to ask the High Court to dissolve the party in case it would proceed with Nasheed. [Maldives Independent 1], [The Sun], [Avas 1], [Maldives Independent 2]
Meanwhile, the Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), announced its decision to give the party’s presidential ticket for the upcoming presidential elections to incumbent President Yameen. [Avas 2]
20 May 2018
Maldives: improving relations with Indian military?
(jm) After month of tension between India and the Maldives, the Maldivians authorities have now allowed marine commandos of the Indian navy to train diving and tactics in asymmetric warfare in their territorial waters. [Avas]
20 May 2018
Maldives: Former president threatens to form alternative government
(jm) Former president Nasheed, now self-exiled in Sri Lanka, announced his intention to run for the presidential elections for the Maldivian Democratic Party regardless of being banned from elections due to a 13-year prison sentence. Nasheed threatened to otherwise form a parallel government of unification on the basis of a reform alliance already established with former president and decade-long dictator Gayoom and the leaders of the Jumhoory Party and the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party. All four party leaders are convicted and serving sentences on contested charges. [Avas]
6 May 2018
The Maldives´ politicized judiciary in a divided polity
(hg) China friendly President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Maldives´s faces two opposition forces, a breakaway faction of his own party led by his half-brother and long-term dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and another one supporting Indian-friendly, self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. Since the liberalization 2005, the judiciary became one of the most powerful political weapons in the country despite the fact that political violence still plays a role. The one who wields this weapon “can lay waste to political rivals, secure or destroy futures and simply force any opponent into submission” without the need to shed blood and invite foreign attention. After incumbent President Yameen had radically shifted his country´s leaning from India to China tables suddenly turned on February 1, 2018 when the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of jailed politicians that belong to the opposition under unusual circumstances. When the President arrested the two judges, among them the Chief Justice, and declared a state of emergency claiming a planed coup, the opposition tried to muster enough international support to get rid of the government with a mix of geopolitical and rights-related arguments. The two arrested Supreme Court judges – “once ‘poster boys’ for the country’s ‘corrupt’ and compromised judiciary” became paragons of justice for the opposition whose leader Nasheed has lost his presidency in 2012, – exactly because he had arrested the Chief Justice for releasing an oppositional politician who had been involved in public protests against Nasheed.
Now, new light is shed on the currently arrested Chief Justice after a leak of several statements given to the police by some other as well as testimonies from top police officials and the intelligence report following the February 1 court order on social media. Until now, there are no indications the leaks could be fake. According to lower court judges the jailed chief justice the other jailed judge had influenced their rulings “to ones president Yameen wanted” until they switched sides. [Avas 1]
In another leaked statement by the Anti-Corruption Commission chief, the latter reports that he was made aware that the arrested Supreme Court judges were hatching a plot to overthrow the government by a “friend”. He also admitted that he was aware, the two top court judges along with the now jailed chief judicial administrator were trying to buy apartments in Malaysia funded by the tycoon and opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) leader. [Avas 2]
Meanwhile, a former Attorney General and famed local advocate called for the resignation of the judges who acted under apparent pressure from two top-court judges. [Avas 3]
The leaks reveal once more the state of judicial independence in the island country. Noteworthy in this context is that the opposition camp remained suspiciously silent over the leaks including twitter-happy ex-president Nasheed. Arguably, judicial independence seems indeed gauged in the Maldives “simply by the side you are on. In Maldives, to go from villain to hero takes only a split second. Merely swapping sides can absolve all your sins.” [Avas 1]
29 April 2018
Maldives top court backs law to remove arrested judges
(hg) The Supreme Court justified a controversial amendment to the Judges’ Act passed by the government controlled parliament to remove two other Supreme Court judges who were accused to plot to overthrow the government with oppositional forces.
The amendment was passed without the constitutionally required quorum as opposition lawmakers boycotted the session. The verdict acknowledges the lacking quorum but argues with a ‘doctrine of necessity’ justifying the amendment. According to the amendment, judges convicted of a criminal offence would be automatically removed from office with immediate effect after the sentence. The amendment also allows to bypass the constitutional article on removal of judges stating that it does not relate to the lawful conduct of judges and orders that formally charged judges will not receive their salary. This latter change raises concerns regarding the presumption of innocence. Moreover, the amendment has also limited the time for appeal which must been filed within 10 days whereas the deciding instances have 30 days for the verdict. [Avas]
22 April 2018
Maldives: U.N. demands former president Nasheed to be admitted to elections
(ls) The Maldives rejected a demand by the U.N. Human Rights Committee, a panel of independent experts overseeing states’ compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, that former president Mohamed Nasheed be allowed to stand for office, including in a presidential election later this year. Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail in 2015 but went into exile. He was disqualified from running in presidential elections for 16 years. The current president Abdulla Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency in February to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed. [Reuters] The Los Angeles Times published a portrait of Nasheed and his past and present political aspirations. [Los Angeles Times]
15 April 2018
Maldives´ opposition preparing for presidential elections
(hg) Former president Mohamed Nasheed announced his Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), the major opposition party, has begun to prepare its manifesto for the upcoming presidency election claiming his party’s priority in creating a society of unity, non-discrimination, and a non-prejudice.
Meanwhile, the Maldives United Opposition (MUO) he joins has declined the Elections Commission´s offer to discuss and disclose information regarding the upcoming presidential election among all parties, claiming the Election Commission wouldcontrolledby the government. [Avas 1] [Avas 2]
15 April 2018
Maldives: Ex-Pres. urges strong foreign intervention, amid Pentagon concerns over Chinese influence
(hg) The geopolitical stakes in the Maldivian constitutional crisis could rise again.
The domestic crisis that is lingering on while presidential elections are approaching is strongly intertwined with geopolitical competition due to the allegiance of the warring parties either to India or China. While the US and UK supporting demands of the pro-Indian opposition, Pakistan has recently entrenched relations with pro-Chinese government of President Yameen. His administration has broken with the traditionally close relation to India and supports a fast growing Chinese presence. A thousand-page free trade agreement with China having approved by the Maldivian parliament last December after just an hour of debate, substantiated rumors of Chinese bass-building plans and a withdraw from defense relatiosn to India are the manifest signs of this trend
The domestic opposition President Yameen is facing is partly composed by a breakaway faction of his own party led by his half-brother and decade long dictator Gayoom and the Western-oriented former president Mohammad Nasheed who lost power and became sentenced after he arrested some judges before he went to exile in the UK and Sri Lanka. Now, with another judicial crisis, judges are arrested again, this time by incumbent president Yameen who accuses his half-brother to have prepared a coup d´état. [Open democracy]
In this situation, after the domestic upheaval seems to have slightly settled, self-exiled opposition leader Nasheed reiterated once more, the Maldives would be “’in need’ of strong foreign intervention”. [Avas]
Not long ago, Nasheed has called for a military intervention by India and also urged the US to prevent a “reversing” geopolitical reality regarding the growing Chinese influence, he described as a sell-out to Beijing. Nasheed also claimed an increasing Islamic radicalization against which he called to take immediate action.
US president Trump had discussed the Maldivian crisis with Indian Prime Minister Modi over phone early February both expressing concern. The US, however, was generally understood til now to have let India assume lead position on Maldives as it is situated in what Delhi would (like to) claim its sphere of influence. [Hindustan Times]
The major news against this background is a recent Pentagon statement.
Responding to the mentioned allegations China would engaging in massive land grabbing, the Pentagon claimed it would be a cause for concern for the US and its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific rules-based order: “We have seen concerning developments in Maldives as far as the Chinese influence is concerned,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia, told. “It’s in India’s backyard. We know it’s of concern to India. So, yes, [the situation in the Maldives] is a concern. We will see how it plays out. It emphasizes some of our priorities identified in our National Defence Strategy, […] From Djibouti to, Gwadar portt to Hambantota port in Sri Lanka, and now potentially the Maldives and then extending further east, it’s of concern”. [The Economic Times]
8 April 2018
Maldivian constitutional crisis lingering on
(hg) The Maldivian parliament – the People’s Majilis – while expected to resume sittings this week remains in uncalled recession. Since the lifting of the controversial 45-day state of emergency, no special committee meetings or parliament sittings have taken place with no further sittings having been scheduled so far while the last sitting took place on March 14 to approve amendments to the Judges Act and Anti-Defection Law seen by the opposition as legislative maneuvers of the ruling party to exert its control. [Avas 1]
Meanwhile, the Maldives Judicial Services Commission (JSC) has suspended the salaries to both Chief Justices having been officially suspended after their arrest on charges of being bribed to initiate an attempted overthrow of a constitutionally elected government leading to the declaration of the state of emergency on Feb. 5. [Avas 2]
8 April 2018
Maldives shifting away from India – now towards Pakistan
(hg) The Maldives, traditionally part of the Indian backyard, are shifting away from what India would like to see as its sphere of great power influence, coming closer not only to China but now also to India´s arch enemy Pakistan.
For a long time, India was the island state´s big brother, sometimes helpful, sometimes dominating. Thirty-year ruling autocrat Gayoom, now one of the leaders of the joint opposition, has received crucial military support as a pro-Indian leader for instance when he was threatened by an attempted coup d’état led by Maldivian separatists and assisted by PLOTE, a Tamil secessionist group from Sri Lanka.
When the Gayoom dictatorship came to an end with the 2008 elections, first democratically elected President Nasheed, representing the other wing of the Maldivian opposition, continued good relationships with India until he had to resign in 2012, while Chinese investment started already to flow in. Current President Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom, turned then decisively to China since 2014. Since then, Yameen has helped China to continuously beef up its presence economically but also by allowing the Chinese navy to dock in the archipelago. The Indian – Chinese rivalry has strongly influenced the present domestic power struggle with former President Nasheed having called for a military intervention by India to protect his country to be sold out to China. [International Policy Digest]
China has warned, however, that it would resist any Indian military intervention which has been ruled out by Delhi, while the Indian relationships to the Yameen government even worsen.
At a time when bilateral relations “are clearly in a free fall”, the Maldivian government has asked Delhi now to take back one of two naval helicopters it had gifted to the Indian Ocean archipelago saying that Male wanted a Dornier maritime surveillance aircraft instead of the “Dhruv” Advanced Light Helicopter it has received. Male is said to be also considering asking India to remove the other Indian chopper too which operates in an atoll where China is said to be considering building a port. [The Times of India] Moreover, has declined an invitation by India to send a ministerial-level delegation to the Defence Expo, a biennial exhibition of weapons and military hardware, to be held in Chennai next week, after having declined India’s invitation to participate in the eight-day major naval exercise “Milan” from March 6-13 too. [Global Village Space]
Now, the surprising visit of the Pakistani army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa is another step in the Maldives´ shift away from India. The most worrisome outcome for India are reported discussion about joint patrol by Maldivian and Pakistani naval forces in the vast exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the island state, which is regarded as a ‘redline’ for India. So far, India has been the only country with whom the Maldives have conducted such joint patrols of its EEZ. Not too long ago, India and the Maldives have still been defense partners – even when China became already economically increasingly important already – leading to the conclusion of a significant MoU on defense cooperation in 2016. The latter formalized a process of setting up a coastal surveillance radar system for “real-time surveillance of the EEZ of Maldives”. Back then, India has supported the surveillance of the EEZ of the Maldives, Mauritius and the Seychelles unrivaled. [The Wire] A Pakistani – Maldivian joint patrol of the Maldivian EEZ would mark a major setback, seen as an intervention in the Indian backyard and a dangerous encircling of the sub-continent.
Another potential issue of Pakistani – Maldivian cooperation will be counter-terrorism with a team from the Maldives´ National Counter Terrorism Centre said to soon travel to Pakistan to further cooperation. In fact, Maldivian nationals received scholarships for religious study in Pakistan which seems to have contributed not only to their radicalization in general but also to the high number of Maldivians joining the Islamic State. [First Post]
8 April 2018
Nepalese PM Oli in Delhi amid soured relations
(hg) Nepal’s Prime Minister KP Oli, together with a high-level delegation, went to India for a three-day state visit on his first visit abroad after assuming office for a second time after fighting an ultra-nationalist election campaign much focusing on Indian interference in Nepali politics. During Oli’s first term, India-Nepal ties had reached their lowest point when Delhi pressured for the interests of Indian-origin Madhesis in the context of crafting the current Nepali constitution, allegedly supporting a blockade to put pressure on Kathmandu which, however, created widespread suffering in Nepal and caused bitter anti-Indian sentiments. Nepal has joined China´s Belt and Road Initiative in the meanwhile and is expected to formalize a number of projects under the scheme in the coming months. [Daily O] [The Kathmandu Post 1] [The Hindu] See for an exclusive interview with PM Oli on his India trip, bilateral relations and Nepali foreign policy [The Hindu].
For the legacy of the blockade of the Indian-Nepali border see [Nepali Times].
When Nepal promulgated its constitution in 2015 to mark lasting peace after years of civil war, India exerted pressure on Nepali leaders, who are mostly from the northern hills, to accommodate the demands of the plains, especially regarding the said Indian-origin Madhesis and to reverse the decision for a secular constitution. To comply with the Indian pressure from PM Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and declare Nepal as a Hindu state or to refrain from declaring it as secular was regarded by the leftist Nepali counterparts as an automatic invitation to the monarchy to return as the king is considered in Hindu political theology a reincarnation of a god. When dissenting minority groups started to block cargo trucks from India, Delhi used its border forces and customs to further block goods traffic in a time when Nepal still suffered tremendously from the consequences of a disastrous earthquake that had ravaged the poor country only month before. When PM Oli approached China for critical fuel supplies, Beijing promptly reacted, neutralizing the effects of the blockade which began then to be slowly lifted after five months in February 2016 as Nepal agreed to a few minor changes in the constitution. The very next month PM Oli visited China to engage in a dense partnership whose heart piece was a transit agreement allowing Nepal access to Chinese sea ports. But the anti-Indian resentment goes way beyond the episode as well reflected by Nepali editor quoted by the SCMP: “India wants to micromanage Nepal. They have to control all government appointments, they have to know everything. Their ambassadors behave like viceroys. Aren’t we a sovereign nation?” [South China Morning Post]
Significantly, even the Nepali, traditionally pro-Indian opposition, expects PM Oli to be treated respectfully during his visit. [The Hindu]
Now, China accounts for nearly 60 per cent of foreign direct investment (FDI) with India being a distant second with US$36.63 million, followed by the US and Japan. [South China Morning Post]
According to recent news a Chinese company will finance a Nepal’s private sector-led Hydropower Project and comprehensively coordinate all design, procurement, construction and finance after another Chinese company has signed an agreement with Nepal’s People’s Energy Limited to develop another Hydropower Project. [Steel Guru]
Another Chinese financed energy project, a – currently only planned – dam project, the $2.5-billion Budhi Gandaki plant in central-western Nepal, has become a major issue in the Delhi – Kathmandu – Beijing relations with PM Modi expected to refuse to buy the energy produced if it would be realized. The project had been initiated by former Nepal Prime Minister and Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, or ‘Prachanda’, but soon cancelled by his successor in office from the pro-Indian Nepali Congress, Sher Bahadur Deuba. [The Kathmandu Post 2]
The current Indian – Nepali talks are held after Pakistan has surprisingly advanced to reach out to both the Maldives and Nepal after Pakistan´s Prime Minister Abbasi has just headed to Kathmandu for a two – day visit only three weeks after Oli has taking over as Prime Minister. Abbasi was the first high profile foreign visit to Nepal´s new leader reportedly discussing also the Chinese Belt and Roads Initiative which Pakistan prominently joins. [Asian Tribune]
1 April 2018
China´s joint ocean observatory on Maldives contribution to strategically encircle India?
(hg) China is looking to build what the Maldives officially describes as a Joint Ocean Observation Station, which, however, would offer significant military potentials as well. Such an observatory would in fact be an important tool to gather information on ocean state, phenomena and processes yielding a variety of physical, chemical and biological data to better understand the specific characteristics of that part of the Indian Ocean and Arabian Sea providing the Chinese navy with the needed accurate and reliable hydrological data to support prolonged sub surface operations in the Arabian Sea. This is seen by Indian strategists as setting the condition to optimally deploy nuclear-powered attack and ballistic missile submarines in India’s maritime backyard and eventually as another move to complete India’s strategic encirclement by China. [The Economic Times]
1 April 2018
Indian-Chinese Navy encounter? Joint US-Indian exercise
(hg) India has categorically denied reports of Nikkei Asian Review that its warships were in direct confrontation with the Chinese Navy near the Maldives last month.
This is the second time the Indian Navy has denied reports of tensions with China in the Indian Ocean in context of the Maldives crisis. [The Print]
Meanwhile four US Navy ships sailed in formation with an Indian Navy frigate and conducted joint exercise and crew exchange in the Indian Ocean [The Times of India]
25 March 2018
Maldives: State of emergency lifted as ex-president faces charges
(ls) Maldives President Abdulla Yameen lifted a 45-day state of emergency on Thursday imposed amid political upheaval. [The Straits Times] The Maldives have been in political turmoil since 1 February when the Yameen government refused to obey a court order to release nine opposition MPs. The government arrested former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
On Wednesday, authorities charged Gayoom and several senior judges, including the former chief justice, with terrorism for attempting to topple the president. [South China Morning Post]
India welcomed the lift of emergency, however, also pointed to various concerns expressed by the international community. India has traditionally viewed the Maldives as within its sphere of influence. [Livemint]
18 March 2018
Maldives crisis: Pressure, appeasement and an international turning point?
(hg) Against the background of the ongoing political crisis in the Maldives, the parliament of European Union has passed a resolution to call on the Maldives government to “respect and fully support the right to protest, freedom of expression including access to social media), association and assembly, and freedom of conscience and freedom of religion and belief, irrespective of the majority religion,” as well as to “ensure that the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, the National Integrity Commission and the electoral commissions can operate independently and without government interference”. [Avas 1] The Maldives’ Fatwa Majlis, the national religious advisory body has now dismissed the resolution as a threat of the Islamic faith of the archipelago. [Avas 2]
Earlier, the EU, in addition to some of its member states such as Germany and the United Kingdom, had also raised concerns over the crisis, having called on Maldivian institutions to “lift immediately the state of emergency and restore all constitutionally guaranteed rights” and warned that if the current situation failed to improve, targeted measures might be considered. As the EU is the Maldives’ largest export partner and the EU member states strongly contribute to the Maldives’ tourism industry, the pressure is significant. [The Diplomat]
Interestingly, the Maldivian government earlier last week has send out surprising signal of appeasement to India stating: “We have an India first policy and we believe that India is the big brother in the region, not China.” The statement was made by the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in the presence of other senior Maldivian ministers, including the Ministers of Economic development, the Minister of Legal Affairs, and the Minister of Tourism at the President’s office on occasion of the first international press conference hosted by the island nation this year. The minister also declared that “no matter what anybody says or suggests”, the Maldives will not be militarized by China. [18 News]
Given the entrenched alliance between the government and China this is a surprising move that is not much reported yet. If it comes too late and how it has been coordinated remains unclear yet.
18 March 2018
The Maldives´ ongoing crisis: protests, arrests and party law amendments
(hg) The acute political crisis in the Maldives which had been covered by previous AiR issues continues. Domestically, the crisis is more than just a power struggle between parts of the Supreme Court and the President, who is challenged by both exiled oppositional forces supported by India and Western governments but also former allies and family members led by the President´s half-brother and former dictator Maumoon A. Gayoom. Domestically, the latter seems to actually represent the more immediate threat to the authoritarian government of President Abdulla Yameen as manifest in the current crisis.
Most notably, this crisis is inextricably linked with an ongoing geopolitical power struggle between India and China, with China supporting the Yameen government having opened the country to Beijing while Sri Lanka, the US, the EU and single EU countries such as Germany and the UK are supporting either the pro-Indian opposition directly or challenging the Yameen regime respectively. [The Diplomat] [The Siasat Daily]
While the latter has become increasingly authoritarian, repressive and occasionally ugly indeed, it might be questionable though to paint the diverse opposition groups with the same brush, to qualify all protesters “activists” and “pro-democracy supporters” or the ‘state of emergency’ as “a draconian” one in the dominating international media coverage. [The Straits Times]
Presently, the state of emergency which had been declared on Feb. 5 and extended for 30 days through March 22, creates strong international criticism, which has been reiterated after the police has arrested at least 139 opposition protesters as they attempted to defy orders under the state of emergency and march into the high security zone in capital Male.
The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has criticized the police for employing excessive use of force to break flanks protestors especially for the use of pepper spray. [Avas 1]
According to Amnesty International, calling for their immediate and unconditional release, the authorities are using the state of emergency as a licence for heightened repression and detain protesters “solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”. [Amnesty] Likewise, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on the authorities to immediately release three Raajje TV journalists who, due to their pro-opposition reporting, were also detained over their coverage of the protests. [Committee to Protect Journalists]
According to the government, the protests are part of concerted efforts coordinated by former President Gayoom that included also parts of the Supreme Court to topple the government by unconstitutional means including a “judicial coup”. The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) accuses its former party leader Gayoom to have bribed lawmakers and judges and creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother’s government. [Avas 2] Earlier last week, the government – controlled parliament has passed a controversial anti-defection law devised to disqualify a dozen former government lawmakers who are accused to have been bribed by the opposition. According to the law, lawmakers elected on party tickets would lose their respective seats if they quit, change or are dismissed from the party. The law also does not apply to lawmakers for violating party whip-lines or are penalized by a party for disciplinary violations. [Avas 3]
In its attempts to prevent the demonstrations the Ministry of Fisheries Ministry had released a statement according to which it would suspend vessel licenses that were found carrying passengers heading to capital to take part in the Friday protests. [Avas 4]
Meanwhile, the president of a party branch of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party who had been arrested at the rally has been released from custody after his family has filed a case at the Human Rights Commission, claiming that he suffered from a dislocated shoulder and a swollen knee due to his arrest. Mohamed Nadheem, son-in-law of detained opposition leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as well as Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed are being kept in arrest. [Raajje]
11 March 2018
The Maldives: In the middle of Indo-Chinese powerplay – and accused of selling oil to North Korea
(ls) A Chinese naval combat force that entered the Indian Ocean for the first time in four years may have helped deter an Indian intervention in the Maldives after its pro-China president imposed a state of emergency. India, a traditional ally, had received calls from Maldives’ opposition leaders last month to use force against President Abdulla Yameen to restore democracy. After the state of emergency was declared, India -moved aircraft and ships to its southern bases and put special forces on standby, two military sources in New Delhi said. In the end, however, no military action was taken. [Channel News Asia]
Meanwhile, in an interview with DW, former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed accused incumbent President Yameen of suppressing political opponents – and supporting the North Korean regime. A ship under the Maldives’ flag allegedly sold oil to North Korea ignoring United Nations sanctions on the country. According to Nasheed, the ship was also funded by the Bank of Maldives. Earlier, Japan’s foreign ministry already announced that a Maldives ship was transferring oil to North Korea refines on high seas. [Deutsche Welle]
4 March 2018
Maldives crisis: A government minister´s view
(hg) With most of international reports being highly critical of the increasingly authoritarian regime of the Maldives, the Asia Times features a view of a government minister on the ongoing crisis that sheds light on the possibility that more than only one of the involved parties is playing a rogue game, a possibility which deserves to be assessed more neatly.
The acute constitutional crisis having led to the state of emergency has been triggered when the five-member Supreme Court issued an order for the release and retrial of nine prisoners facing charges ranging from terrorism and attempted murder to treason and embezzlement including exiled, former president Mohamed Nasheed, currently living in Sri Lanka. The legality of this court decision as well as the government’s claims of an attempted coup d’état by the president’s half-brother and former dictator Gayoom remain as much in the dark as Gayoom´s current relation to the other oppositional force represented by exiled former president Nasheed.
In the minister´s account, which should be constitutionally addressed, the court acted unlawfully as indicated by a number of procedural particularities, when it, for instance, ordered the release and retrial of guilty parties without overturning any of their convictions, did not rule in an open hearing – as stated by law – but behind closed doors and announced it’s ruling at 11pm on a Thursday night just as the Maldivian weekend begins. Furthermore, so the minister, it refused to hear from either the attorney general or the prosecutor general, as it had been obliged to in the past whereas the chief justice even attempt to remove the attorney general for offering his professional opinion which was defeated by a 3-2 decision as was his subsequently tabled motion to impeach the president, a right only Parliament reserves according to the minister. [Asia Times]
4 March 2018
MILAN Naval exercises and Maldives declining to participate
(hg) The Indian Navy´s Andaman and Nicobar Command will conduct the biannual MILAN exercise from March 6-11. From the 23 countries having been invited, 16 have confirmed their participation, unsurprisingly including the Maldives whose government is dealing with a worsening domestic security situation, while India is favoring the opposition in the ongoing power struggle.
Among this year’s participating nations are Australia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Bangladesh and Indonesia. [Mihaaru] [The Hindu]
4 March 2018
New Chinese naval observation station in the Maldives: A dual use facility?
(hg) Against the backdrop of mounting international pressure regarding the Maldives constitutional crisis, China has reiterated that a joint Maldives–Chinese ocean observation construction has been agreed upon between the governments in December last year and is located close to Indian Kerala and Sri Lankan coast has no military applications. [The Economic Times]
4 March 2018
The crisis in the Maldives and mounting pressure by the international community
(hg) Maldivian ambassador to Sri-Lanka Mohamed Husain Shareef has invited the international community to visit and assess the situation of the nation, claiming that the opposition has projected a false and misleading scenario on the state on the nation.
Meanwhile, a high-level Maldives delegation sought to reassure the UN Human Rights Council that the situation remained stable suggesting the UN should focus on more preferring global issues. [The Maldives Independent]
Unimpressed of such assurances, the European Union warned the Maldivian government of potential “targeted measures” and called for acknowledging the disputed decision, to lift the state of emergency and restore civil rights of citizens including the release of all political prisoners, to engage in talks with the opposition and ensure that the coming elections will be for and free.
Notable is the report of law and consultancy firm – Persus Strategies LLC – titled “Moving from Condemnation to Action”. The report, prepared by exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer, recommends the EU Council to impose human rights-based sanctions in response to the constitutional crisis including targeted asset freezes and travel bans urging that “the time to act is now.” [Mihaaru 1]
After police has arrested three more members of Parliament, altogether six opposition MPs seem to have been arrested in the frame of the ongoing constitutional and political crisis [Zee News], outspokenly commented by the US ambassador to the Maldives tweeting that ‘arrests are happening so fast’ and that ‘it is hard to keep track’. [Raaije MV]
Making things worse for the government, the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that a Maldivian tanker has been spotted by an aircraft of the Japanese Maritime Self-defense Forces tanker in the East China Sea, “strongly suspected” to have been engaged in ship-to-ship transfers with a North Korean vessel. The Japanese government declared that it had noted the UN Security Council Committee on the issue which amounts to breach of the corresponding UNSCR. [Mihaaru 2]
The involved vessels are the North Korean “Chon Ma San”, designated by the United States as a sanctions-target and the Maldivian-flagged tanker “Xin Yuan 18”. Responding, the Maldivian government denies the accusations, saying that the identified vessel ‘Xin Yuan 18’ would not be of Maldivian origin or be registered in the country. Moreover, the government states that it condemned “the use of our national flag in a manner so as to tarnish the good standing and reputation of our nation” and that the Maldives has prioritized the implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions including those on North Korea. [NDTV]
25 February 2018
Maldives: President extends state of emergency, court flips once again
(jk) In a continuation of the unfolding constitutional crisis in the Maldives, on which AiR has provided background and updates in the previous two issues, President Yameen has on Monday sought to extend the state of emergency by a month, which was approved of by parliament on Tuesday. However, with the opposition boycotting the vote, only 38 lawmakers were present. Opposing forces and observers believe that according to the constitution, 43 votes are needed as a minimum requirement for this to be lawful. This interpretation is doubted by the speaker of the parliament, and of course the president, who argue that a vote on a state of emergency does not fall under this general rule. [Maldives Independent]. Also, the state of emergency was extended despite a clear message from India’s Ministry of External Affairs not to do so. [The Times of India]
The President is emboldened by a new decision of the supreme court to reverse its initial February 1 decision to re-instate 12 opposition lawmakers. Now, the lawmakers are not to re-join parliament, giving Yameen a majority in the 85-member legislature. [South China Morning Post]
18 February 2018
The Maldives` unraveling constitutional crisis
(hg) With elections supposed to be held later this year, the full-blown, steadily unfolding constitutional crisis on the Maldives has reached a critical stage for the country´s political future while the further course of events might also have significant consequences for regional stability (see below ‘Maldives: Unrest to escalate into international crisis?’)
To recap: Authoritarian leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the islands from 1978 up until the first free elections in 2008 won by Mohammed Nasheed, a British-educated human rights activist who had spent years in Gayoom’s prisons. When Nasheed got under pressure over accusations of Un – Islamic activities escalating around a judicial scandal leading to his resignation. In 2015, under incumbent President Abdullah Yameen, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years for treason. He spent three years in jail before he was allowed to travel abroad for medical treatment allowing him to receive political asylum in the UK. With Yameen, China´s influence on the islands steadily raised, India´s decreased, all this topped by a recent free trade agreement with China “controversially rammed through Parliament in less than an hour, even though the document runs into hundreds of pages” [The Straits Times]
Against this background, an increasingly repressive regime and recent accusations by the opposition that President Yameen would sell out the country to China, the current crisis began to unfold Feb. 1, when the Supreme Court sacked the conviction of Nasheed and ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their seats.
When the once pliant judiciary and senior police brass switched sides, the President responded heavy – handedly. He fired two police chiefs on successive days last week, arrested two Supreme Court judges, including the Chief – Justice, two lawmakers, the chief judicial administrator as well as former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his son and son-in-law, after declaring a 15-day state of emergency on Feb. 5. [Nikkei Asian Review] [Avas]
It is not without irony, however, that former President Nasheed himself also had went after a judge who had ordered the release of one of his critics. The judge’s arrest catalyzed the massive opposition leading then to his downfall. [The Straits Times]
Police meanwhile claims that one of the arrested judges had been bribed with a more than USD 2 million amount with former President Gayoom, who is the incumbent President´s half-brother, allegedly having to overthrow the government with support from insurrect parts of the police forces. [Avas]
18 February 2018
Maldives: Unrest to escalate into international crisis?
(hg) The unraveling political crisis on the Maldives (see above) is increasingly overlaid by an interlocked great power competition between China and India whose immediate outcomes are unclear.
One day after President Yameen has declared a 15-day emergency, the opposition called on New Delhi to militarily intervene, while China insisted that the international community should “play a constructive role on the basis of respecting the sovereignty of the Maldives, instead of further complicating the situation”. [Nikkei Asian Review]
After President Yameen had declared the state of emergency, the European Union ambassador with his German and UK colleagues arrived in Malé, the capital, to meet with him but could not meet anybody. [The New York Times 1]
On the other side, the united opposition seems to count more on external involvement than direct negotiations in the moment largely rejecting the government´s invitation for dialogue by setting stiff pre-conditions including the release of jailed opposition leaders, saying further: “There’s nothing one can discuss with someone who’s very nature is corruption and embezzlement. Or someone who actually finds happiness in cruelty.” [Avas]
For India, the Maldives are historically part of its backyard as much as the South China Sea is for China. Therefore, there rapid Sino-Maldives rapprochement, which unfolds since 2011, is seriously threatening what might be dubbed an Indian ‘Monroe – doctrine’.
In 1988 for instance, New Delhi successfully intervened to help then President Gayoom – now arrested by pro Chinese President Yameen – to repel an attempted coup supported by Sri Lankan mercenaries. When a renegade Maldivian businessman-smuggler tried to topple the government mainly supported by hired Tamil Tigers, Gayoom reached out to US President George H.W. Bush for help. Bush turned to then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who swiftly dispatched a para commando brigade and the Indian Navy who cleared the situation [Financial Times] [The Straits Times] [The New York Times 2] [The Print] For background information see Sushant Singh’s Operation Cactus: Mission Impossible in the Maldives (New Delhi, Juggernaut, 2016) with a good review here [The Wire].
The difference between then and now is, however, that it is now not the sitting president, but the opposition calling for help. [Nikkei Asian Review] [The New York Times 1]
After all, India´s attempt to help out the Sri Lankan government to counter the Tamil Tiger insurgency from 1987 to 1990 turned disastrous both in military terms and regarding the assignation of Rajiv Gandhi by a LTTE cadre, which might influence decision making on side of some in Delhi.
Another factor is the fact that many Muslim in the Maldives perceive India´s governing right-wing Hindu BJP as an anti-Muslim party – issues are the government´s approaches towards Kashmir, the Rohingya and the Indian Muslims – which could be used to rally massive Anti-Indian sentiments if India advances too forcefully. [Business Standard]
When President Yameen sent his foreign minister recently to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi the appeasement came too late with India issuing an unusually strong statement saying that it was “imperative” regarding the Maldivian court that its orders be followed. [The Straits Times]
India has shown its regional assertiveness since long and sometimes significant consequences as Ravi Veloor points out with some noteworthy examples. In 1985, it imposed an economic blockade on Nepal after Kathmandu awarded to China a key road-building project running along Nepal’s open border with India, a decision that triggered a chain of events that ultimately saw the kingdom’s monarchy toppled. Around the same time, the late Indira Gandhi decided to train and arm Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka, after Colombo allowed Voice of America to set up a transmitter in Jaffna and sold strategically important oil tank farms to a company said to be linked to the CIA. In 2014 India was again said to have imposed a blockade on Nepal, this time eventually supporting the cause of the communists and Nepal´s new Prime Minister Oli. Three years ago, Indian intelligence is said to have orchestrated a Cabinet revolt against then President Mahinda Rajapaksa who now celebrates his comeback after last week´s local elections. [The Straits Times]
On the opposing side, there is Beijing having successfully invested in the Maldives to became the Yameen government´s most important partner. Hundreds of millions of dollars in grants have been invested, one-fourth of the country´s tourists come from China while Chinese companies are executing mega infrastructure projects across the archipelago which is a Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) partner nation. A 2015 amendment to the Maldivian constitution permitting foreign ownership of land paved the way for entrenching influence that was crowned by the recent FTA.
The question is how assertive China might be to keep its influence, how important the small country really is for unfolding the plan to make China Asia´s leading power before assuming global leadership as outlined by President Xi at the 19th National Party Congress in October last year.
As much as the economic value of the entrenched investments is insignificant for China as much are the Maldives strategically important, a true pearl in the Indian Ocean regarding China´s aim to establish a blue-water navy that is capable of protecting crucial trade routes, ensuring energy supplies and securing overseas Chinese assets. Last year the first PLAN frigates docked in Male for a “friendly” visit. [Al Jazeera]
Now, however, hard choices might have to be made in a scenario in which an Indian military operation seems currently not probable, whereas the Maldivian government could nevertheless come under intense domestic and international pressure. To not support the Maldivian government and the related strategic asset ‘Maldives’ then would give a benchmark for Chinese partners and adversaries alike how determined China pursues its BRI.
Both, India and China have already set limits to an escalation of the international involvement. Meanwhile, all sides will advance along overt and covert channels to secure their interests with those supporting the opposition having the advantage. Any outcome which is not a compromise will send a strong signal to those considering in many nations whether to take the Chinese or the other side. Even less than India, China would be likely prone to send troops. [Al Jazeera]
The political development in Sri Lanka and Nepal albeit being rather in favor of China will also increase the stakes from the perspective of adversary powers which further complicates the situation.
Other international players worth are Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia albeit less than the US and EU putting pressure on the government. Noteworthy is the visit of Saudi Prince Salman of the Sunni Muslim nation after the Yameen government failed to deliver on a deal to hand an entire island to Saudi interests. [The Straits Times]
Until the end of the 15-day emergency there will be probably no stark official move by any involved power but bargaining and covert attempts to gain the upper hand.
If these charges could be undermined by sufficient evidence and judicial assistance from abroad would confirm them, the situation could appear internationally in a different light. The fact that the Yameen government has in any case developed into an autocratic and repressive regime, would then be inclined to remain the problem of the Maldives electorate, at least for the meanwhile.
In a sophisticated move whose success remains to be seen, the government decided to seek help from other countries to investigate the charges of corruption against the arrested judges.
Allegedly the judges “made at least 12 visits in the past few months to various countries, including India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, the Netherlands and UK”, so the government, “And they have bought or acquired very expensive items (or) properties, […] Hence, we would need assistance from other countries for the investigation.” The judges are also accused of having conspired and attempted to persuade the other three Supreme Court justices to pass rulings “at midnight, out of the blue and without any new evidence”, to free political prisoners and order the retrial of ex-president Nasheed, as well as to remove the attorney-general, prosecutor-general, police commissioner and President Abdulla Yameen. [Reuters]
11 February 2018
Maldives: A domestic crisis with regional implications
(jk) Since its inception last year, AiR’s South Asia section has repeatedly reported on smaller countries like Sri Lanka or the Maldives, reflecting the increasing importance of these geo-strategically important positioned nations. The ongoing power play between China, India and the US, has repeatedly drawn these nations into the news spotlight. Major developments in the Maldives, as AiR has reported, were the FTA signed with China along with some other bilateral deals signed in the context of the Belt and Road initiative last year. [China FTA Network] Domestic politics however, have also increased in its global importance as they are largely seen as proxy conflicts between the great powers, and who supports who in the domestic context has obvious connections to the international scale.
In this regard, the current political crisis in Nepal is more than an internal struggle for power. Last week, the Supreme Court had ruled to release nine prisoners who are all former opposition politicians, based on the judgement that the trials against them were politically motivated. In response to the ruling, current President Abdulla Yameen called to ignore the decision of the court and alleged that some judges were planning a coup against him. In order to revoke the decision, he then declared a state-of-emergency and had the court building stormed and the chief justice as well as another judge arrested. Following the arrest, the remaining three supreme court justices revoked the earlier decision to free the prisoners “in light of the concerns raised by the president”. [The Times of India]
In a reaction to the developments, former and now exiled President Mohamed Nasheed has called on the US and India to (forcefully) intervene in the crisis and free the prisoners. He also would like to see the current president to be removed from power. [BBC News]
As alluded to above, the domestic political crisis takes place against the background of a greater, regional power play. Before his ouster in 2015, President Nasheed followed a course directing the country much closer to its northern neighbour India, with limited Chinese influence. As epitomised in the FTA negotiations, President Yameen has no issues with engaging with China as they seek to increase their influence in the region, much to the dismay of opposition figures in the Maldives, but obviously also to India which is not willing to make room for Chinese influence in its backyard. Whether or not India will follow Naheed’s call and intervene will have at least as much to do with countering China as with their desire to solve a domestic political crisis so close to home.
4 February 2018
The China-Maldives Connection
(hg) With a new, unexpected FTA, China cements its influence in the Maldives, much to India’s dismay. Signed on December 8, 2017, as the Maldives’ first FTA with any country, the Maldives has become the second South Asian country to sign an FTA with China after Pakistan.
Moreover, the Maldives also signed a Memorandum of Understanding that brings it into the Maritime Silk Road [Maldives Independent], a component of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seconded by a number of bilateral cooperation treaties. The article in The Diplomat highlights some background information of the development that has been covered by recent AiR issues as well. [The Diplomat]
26 January 2018
Maldives: Opposition criticizes alleged sell-out to China
(hg) The exiled former Maldives’ president Nasheed warned that this year’s presidential election could be the last chance to save his country from an ever increasing Chinese influence invited by the current Yameen Abdul Gayoom government without any regard for due procedure or transparency. [The Standard]
Commenting from his exile in neighboring Sri Lanka, Nasheed, who was convicted of terrorism charges at home, reiterated that China’s growing influence in the Maldives threatens the peace and stability in the entire region. The remarks prompted strong responses from the Maldives government whose incumbent president has linked his fortune to China since taking office in 2013 which just culminated in the country’s first bilateral free trade agreement which the government has signed with China late last year. [Avas].
Lately, India, the EU and the US take increasing interest in the developments on the strategically important Maldives, regarding both, a worsening domestic governance and security situation as well as the Chinese advancement.
19 January 2018
Terrorism: Maldives promises to get control of radicalization
The government in Malé has promised to block websites seeking to radicalize the country´s Sunni population as US sources warned that extremist groups may launch attacks in the islands issuing an updated travel warning. While the government has long refrained from intervening, President Abdulla Yameen warned in 2016 that violent Islamic extremism posed one of the biggest threats to the island’s Muslims having one of the greatest rates of foreign fighters in Syria per capita in the world. [The Peninsula Qatar]
12 January 2018
Maldives: Bleak outlook for democratic governance in times of geo-strategic importance
(hg) A recent EU mission to the Maledives addressing concerns about the status of democracy and rights marks the country´s rising geo-strategic importance, which also is a topic in the section on international relations, geopolitics and security in this AiR – issue below. The mission has been led by the by the European External Action Service´s (EEAS) Deputy Managing Director for Asia, the EEAS Head of Division for South Asia and been accompanied by the Head of the EU Delegation to the Maldives. [Raajje]
After a short democratic intermezzo, inaugurated by the 2008 elections and ended with the ouster of President Mo-hammad Nasheed in 2012, Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former long-term dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, took over in 2013. Since then, Maldives constitutional politics were marked by political unrest, Islamic radicalization, and an increasing climate of fear amidst practices of intimidating, harassing and even murdering government critics. [The Diplomat]
12 January 2018
Maldives/Sri Lanka: Maldivian Foreign Minister meets Japanese counterpart, who also visited Sri Lanka, and travels on to India
(jk) Amid China’s growing influence in the region, much has been said about nations of previously less strategic significance such as Sri Lanka or the Maldives and how China seeks influence there. This week, the diplomatic news out of the Maldives have more to do with hedging than betting exclusively on China. For the first time, a Japanese foreign minister visited the Indian Ocean Nation to discuss Tokyo’s interests in the Indo-Pacific. [The Japan Times]. Shortly after the visit, the Maldives’ foreign minister embarked on a three-day trip to India [The Times of India]. The Japanese FM came from Sri Lanka, where he stressed that Japan places great importance on a maritime order based on the rule of law in general and its relation with Sri Lanka in particular [Nikkei Asian Review].
5 January 2018
India and the new Asian order: Nepal, the Maldives and greater Sino-Indian relations
Against the background of the competition between the two major rising powers in Asia, China and India, the first two pieces looks at the Indian PM’s neighbourhood first policy and where it has had its successes and constrains [Carnegie]. Significant progress has been made and under Modi, India looks to keep strategic engagement at the top of the priority list.
But India is facing an uphill battle for influence in its neighbourhood with China also increasing its economic and political influence [The Diplomat]. The election of a “China-friendly” government in Nepal recently serves as a one example [Pacific Standard], as do the deteriorating relations between India and the Maldives [Asia Nikkei]. China’s motivations, as many feel in India, are all but exclusively benign and whilst Indo-Sino cooperation should be encouraged in general, it is important for India not to lose sight of the fact that China is a strategic competitor and will not do India any favours beyond what is good for China.
China is an absolute priority for Indian foreign policy and It is no coincidence that the next foreign minister in India will be a China expert, in fact a diplomat who was crucial in resolving the Doklam stand-off [Sputnik]. India, it is argued, must for instance be prepared for a border war [Outlook India] and recent steps such as the linking of all posts along the Chinese border are signs that this is considered a real possibility [Times Of India]. India must stay vigilant in its external relations and be careful not to cede the entire region to China in political, economic or cultural points [The Print / Inst. for Defence Studies and Analyses]. After the recent Doklam border stand-off, there is already a new stand-off, this time firmly inside Indian territory [Indian Express].
29 December 2017
Maldives: Between India and China
Shortly after reaching a Free Trade Agreement with China and allowing Chinese warships to dock in its waters – and after a leading Maldives publication called India “an enemy nation” – the Maldives government is reaching out to New Delhi to demonstrate it is sensitive to India’s concerns. The Maldives’ President Abdulla Yameen disavowed the anti-India editorial, and now proclaims India his country’s “closest friend” and ally. A high-level visit is being planned, perhaps involving India’s Prime Minister Modi [First Post].
8 December 2017
China-Maldives relations: ‘Fast-Tracked’ Trade Pact Under Fire
In a rushed, short-notice night time vote, Maldives’ parliament last week voted to approve a free trade agreement (FTA) with China. No opposition members participated in the vote (Mihaaru). The ruling party asserts the FTA will boost the fisheries industry and tourism sector, while the opposition alleges it will be detrimental to the Maldives’ economy “as balance of trade is greatly in favor of China.” The vote has drawn fire from the opposition for both its procedural irregularities and its content. India’s perspective on the vote is reflected in the second article (The Economic Times). The pact, says Indian observers, will “push Maldives towards a debt trap like Sri Lanka”, and place the country in a geo-politically vulnerable position. India is also concerned that China is planning for a naval base in the Maldives. But there’s no need for India’s concern, per the third article from an official PRC press organ: although Maldives’ fast-tracking of the FTA with China seems to have caught New Delhi off guard, the pact does not “target any third party, India included” (China Daily). China suggest that “Indian media should not read too much into the deal”. Meanwhile, per a report from another offical Chinese state organ, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will pay a state visit to China from Wednesday through Saturday of this week, at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping (Global Times). While the topics of discussion for the visit have not been released, the FTA and naval basing are certain to be high on the agenda.
1 December 2017
Japan: Disaster reduction equipment gifts to Maldives
In a move certain to be viewed through the lens of regional economic and political competition, Japan has gifted equipment for protection against natural disasters to the Republic of the Maldives. Despite China’s increasing economic inroads into this island nation, the Maldives considers Japan a key ally, and it has been one of the biggest contributors to Maldives’ development over the past five decades. During high-level talks this week, Japan and the Maldives are discussing future cooperation, to include increasing Japanese trade, investments, and tourism in the Maldives, counter-terrorism as well as other fields of cooperation [Mihaaru].