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Political tensions in Maldives causing alarm

July 24, 2012 16:44 IST

The Commonwealth has called for all parties to "show restraint and restore calm", while the European Union has expressed "deep concern" over the continued political unrest and the heavy-handed response of the security forces. India has appealed to all political parties to exercise restraint and to refrain from actions that might have an adverse impact. Shubha Singh reports.

Rising political tensions in the Maldives are causing concern around the world with the European Union, India and some others issuing cautionary messages. Anti-government demonstrations have turned violent, leading to the arrest of more than 50 persons during two days of protests over the weekend.

The political pot is beginning to boil in the Maldives once again as the opposition holds what it has termed "direct action" protests to topple the government. The police have reported that nine officers were injured during the demonstrations in Male, the capital of Maldives, and two of them are in a critical condition. About four journalists were attacked during the protests.

The protests gained strength after the government filed charges against former president, Mohammed Nasheed for ordering the detention of a judge in the series of events which preceded his resignation as president earlier this year. A conviction in the case would mean that Nasheed would be barred from politics for five years.

The Maldives Democratic Party has called the charges as "politically motivated and aimed to remove Nasheed from politics. The opposition party has resolved that it would not contest elections if Nasheed is barred from contesting elections. The charges arise from Nasheed's directions to the army to arrest a senior judge who had blocked an investigation into corruption charges against the former regime. The order had set the judiciary, the government and the security forces at odds with each other.  

The filing of charges against Nasheed is an indicator of the hardening of the Waheed Hassan Manik's government's stance against the former president. The heightened tempers mean an end to any process of dialogue and reconciliation between the government and the opposition. The charges were filed even as a Maldives Commission of National Inquiry is investigating the events which led to the resignation of Nasheed and transfer of power to the current government. The commission was reconstituted after Nasheed protested that the commission was not an impartial body. The commission now includes a foreign judge from Singapore and a member nominated by Nasheed. The commission is expected to complete its report by next month.

The Commonwealth has called for all parties to "show restraint and restore calm", while the European Union has expressed "deep concern" over the continued political unrest and the heavy-handed response of the security forces. India has appealed to all political parties to exercise restraint and to refrain from actions that might have an adverse impact.

Maldives has been in political turmoil since February when Nasheed quit office in controversial circumstances. Nasheed had appeared on Maldives TV and announced that he had resigned as president but later claimed that he had done so under duress. Vice President Waheed took over as president after Nasheed's televised announcement. A day later Nasheed claimed that he had resigned as 20 police and army officers held a gun to his head. 

Nasheed and his Maldives Democratic Party were voted to power in 2008 after a long political campaign that Nasheed had waged to oust of the authoritarian regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gayoom had been in power for three decades. However, the mood had changed by 2011 when opposition began series of protests against Nasheed's policies.

The bitterness has increased as Waheed's government took in several figures associated with the Gayoom regime, including Gayoom's daughter who is a minister in the cabinet. Nasheed termed it as government by Gayoom.

The MDP had begun holding demonstrations to press for early elections this year while the government has insisted that elections will take place in mid-2013 as scheduled. The protests have come shortly after the Maldives government mounted a major publicity campaign to promote tourism in the islands, including inviting a group of travel writers from prominent publications around the world to visit the lovely islands. While on a visit to the US, Nasheed had urged tourists not to visit Maldives till the political situation settled. The statement had created consternation in government and tourism circles in the Maldives.

The MDP has been able to sustain the demonstrations, bringing out upto 5,000 protestors at a time. Nasheed retains his popularity among his party's supporters. But the political events have sharply polarised the polity in Maldives with increasing bitterness between the government and the opposition.

Shubha Singh