The political transition in Maldives shows all signs of remaining highly charged till the elections scheduled for September 7. Former president Mohamed Nasheed was produced in a Maldives court on Wednesday, ten days after he emerged from an 11-day long stay in the Indian high commission where he had sought refuge from arrest warrant issued by a local court.
The former president, however, received a breather when the Hulhumale magistrate court allowed a defence request to delay the trail by four weeks.
Nasheed’s lawyers had asked for the trail to be put off for four weeks or until after the presidential elections, but the court held that the election office has not designated any presidential candidates as yet, so the court put off the trail by four weeks, according to media reports in the Maldives.
Nasheed was released from custody after the court hearing. He had been arrested a day before by the police to ensure his presence in court.
He has been charged with illegally ordering the army, while holding the office of president, to detain chief criminal judge Abdulla Mohamed.
Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party has claimed that the court case was politically motivated to prevent him from contesting the presidential election. The party has expressed fears that in case Nasheed is convicted and sentenced for a period of more than a year, he will be disqualified from contesting the elections.
MDP leaders had claimed that Nasheed would be tortured in prison. The atmosphere was so charged that the Indian government issued a statement that it was “monitoring the situation”.
While the United States government expressed concern over the events in Male, the British government said that no harm should come to Nasheed. Canada also called for the release of the former president.
Meanwhile, the MDP voted together with some smaller parties in the Majlis on Tuesday to send back a bill that was returned to the legislature by President Waheed. The political parties bill, which is now to be adopted, makes it mandatory for any political party to have 10,000 members in order to be a registered party.
This bill, once enacted, will mean that President Waheed’s Gaumee Iththihaad Party, which has about 3000 members, will no longer be a recognised political party. It is estimated that out of the 16 existing parties, only five parties would be able to meet the criteria of 10,000 registered members.
These five would include the Maldivian Democratic Party, the conservative Islamic Party, Adhaalath Party and the DRP, the new party founded recently by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Incidentally, the Adhaalath Party had charged that the bill was aimed at deregistering the party but a strong enrolment programme undertaken in the recent weeks has taken its membership to over 10,000.
The bitterness in the Maldivian political arena was evident in the Majlis earlier in the week during the presidential address when angry MDP members did not allow President Waheed to address the Majlis. It took President Waheed the full day to make his presidential address through the repeated interruptions by the MDP members who referred to him as an “illegitimate president”.
Nasheed’s MDP is currently the largest political party in Maldives, but in the presidential elections, the MDP will have to find some allies to take his support to more than 50 per cent, since the election is based on the run-off system.
Candidates will be eliminated in the preliminary rounds till there is a face-off between two candidates.
The former president’s presence in court has allowed the judicial process to go ahead and his defence lawyers’ request for a four week delay in the trail has been accepted by the court.
Nasheed drew international attention to his predicament by taking refuge in the Indian high commission. The political drama in Maldives will continue to play itself out till the people’s mandate clears the air six months later.