by Ali Arif
On 1 June 2016, former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Vice President Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, convened a meeting in London seeking support to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Maldives. The two former political figures announced the formation of the ‘Maldives United Opposition’; an exiled political movement of opposition political figures and disgraced former members of the current Government.
The ‘Maldives United Opposition’ announced its intent to ‘overthrow’ the legitimate, elected Government of the Maldives.
-Democracy in the Maldives-
Political parties are fundamental tools to represent the broad range of opinions in every democratic society. They are instruments to canalize progress and political discussion. Therefore, the establishment of a new political movement born out of dialogue between different parties is natural and positive for every democracy.
Consequently, the emergence of a new political actor in the Maldivian constitutional landscape constitutes evidence of the health of our democratic system. It enhances the political dialogue and competition in the ballot boxes, where the Maldivian people express their will. As a matter of fact, since the adoption of the Constitution in 2008, the Maldives has witnessed a number of fruitful and constructive political coalitions that helped achieve common goals and protect the rule of law. However, such movements must respect fundamental principles of democracy and the rule of law. The way to bring about change is through a parliamentary system of democratic change and through the ballot box.
The Government acknowledges that dialogue and trust are essential elements for the strengthening of democracy. Accordingly, the Government has systematically invited each and every political party in the opposition to participate in an all party dialogue with the Government.
It has encouraged opposition political parties with radically different points of view to communicate their demands and proposals to the Government and initiate a process of exchange of ideas and propositions that may bring beneficial outcomes for the Maldivian people. The Maldives remains a young democracy and it is our shared responsibility to help consolidate its democratic values and institutions.
- Political Responsibility-
However, recent political actions question whether certain opposition political figures are failing to fulfil this responsibility. First, the numerous invitations to open a wide political dialogue with the Government have faced constant obstacles, unreasonable pre-dialogue demands being set and ended up with outright rejections by the opposition. Sadly, without dialogue, it is not possible to achieve meaningful, representative and lasting solutions.
More relevantly, although the announcement of a new coalition is positive for the democratic system, the fact that the official announcement of the ‘Maldives United Opposition’ coalition took place in London, was chaired by former Vice President Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and former President Mohamed Nasheed, called for the overthrowing of the Government raises considerable doubts about the legitimacy of the initiative and its motivations.
-A Convicted Leader-
Mohamed Nasheed has chosen to use the Government’s decision to grant him exceptional leave for medical treatment to orchestrate an international media campaign against the democratically elected Government, a campaign littered with untruths and baseless accusations. Now, the campaign seems to have transformed into a political platform aimed at destabilising the Maldives.
Rather than seeking the urgent medical treatment he allegedly required, the former President has constantly organized press conferences and participated in interviews portraying the Maldives as an authoritarian and radicalized country. These narratives have helped him escape his criminal responsibility and advance his partisan political interests at the expense of Maldivian society.
Notably, the former President and his counsel have gone as far as to call for the imposition of sanctions and tourism boycotts in Maldives, which is a woefully irresponsible call. Such extraordinary political measures would have extremely detrimental consequences for the Maldivian population, as several studies have proven that even when these measures are targeted, they have a negative impact on society.
We must remind that Mohamed Nasheed undertook the same media and institutional tour after resigning from office. At that time, he publicly recognized before numerous international media that he had ordered the unlawful abduction of a judge. This action constitutes a crime under Maldivian Law and under almost every jurisdiction in the world, and accordingly, the former was prosecuted and convicted for his responsibility in this criminal act.
To order the ‘abduction’ of an individual, in the absence of a judicial order or warrant, is a serious criminal offence. When the person that orders the detention is the Head of State, the victim is a member of the judiciary, and there is political motivation behind the action, the act constitutes a grave violation of human rights and an authoritarian movement threatening the separation of powers in the country. As a result, this abduction awakened international outcry and created a serious political crisis in the Maldives that led to the resignation of the former President.
Mohamed Nasheed’s case is currently under appeal before the Supreme Court of the Maldives. However, after having abused his leave for medical treatment and used it for personal and political gain, there is little hope that the former President will respect his legal obligations in the Maldives and participate in the appeal process.
It is unfortunate that a person that has been convicted for a very serious criminal offence of autocratic character, and that has shown complete disdain for the rule of law and the principle of equality before the law in escaping his sentence, is now leading a political coalition in exile. However, it is even more disappointing to see how certain members of the international community disingenuously support his position.
-The International Position-
The former President and his advisors recently announced that he had been granted refugee status in the United Kingdom. However, the Government of the Maldives notes with concern that that there has been no official confirmation from the UK Government.
It is regrettable that the UK has consistently refused to respond to requests over the legal status of the former President, and over the reasons that would have served to justify the recognition of refugee status. We must note that members of the UK Government and prominent political figures have claimed that the former President’s conviction was arbitrary based on an opinion of the UN Working Group of Arbitrary Detention. However, these same authorities have denied the validity of the UN Group’s opinions when they affected their own national interests. Sadly, double standards should not be the basis for international relations.
It is noted that Mohamed Nasheed is not the only controversial member of the newly announced coalition, as former Vice President Dr. Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has been officially appointed as its leader. It should be recalled that the Majlis, the highest representative of the Maldivian sovereignty, voted overwhelmingly to oust Vice President Jameel from Government due to incompetence and dereliction of duty. The coalition further includes the immediate former Vice Ahmed Adheeb, currently facing trial on a number charges of fraud, corruption and financial mismanagement and for allegedly orchestrating an attempt on the President’s life. Therefore, the presence of these individuals in key positions in the coalition raise legitimate doubts about the legitimacy and bona fide intent of the organization.
-An Exercise of Responsibility-
According to numerous rules in international law, refugees have duties to the country in which they find themselves and must restrain from engaging in attacks and “subversive activities” against any other country in the international community, including their country of origin.
Hence, this new coalition is expected to respect the rules of the democratic system –irrespective of where its activities take place—and show a proactive and cooperative approach to dialogue. Governance and politics entail an exercise of responsibility, and responsible political leaders prioritize the interests of the Maldivian population over the political interests of their parties.
Editor's Note: Ali Arif is Member of the People’s Majlis (MP) for Kelaa Constituency and a Member of the Executive Council of the Progressive Party of the Maldives.