Police arrested the former leader of the Maldives on Monday
as he campaigned to regain the presidency, the latest chapter in the political
saga roiling the tiny string of islands south of India.
The winding case has rattled the young democracy, which shook off decades
of autocratic rule just a few years ago. Mohamed Nasheed was charged this year with illegally ordering the arrest of a judge during his presidency. His
decision to arrest the judge triggered protests and a police mutiny before
Nasheed resigned in February, the culmination of weeks of turmoil.
Nasheed later said he had been forced to step down. The
former president defended his push to arrest the judge, saying he believed his
rulings were politically tainted, and warned the nation was being
dragged back into the days of dictatorship.
In late August, a national commission found that there was
no coup and that no one had threatened to kill the former president, as he
claimed. A Maldives court issued an order for his arrest Sunday after he repeatedly
failed to appear in court, the Maldives Police Services said in a statement Monday.
Nasheed and his allies have disputed the commission findings
and argue the court case is a pretext to thwart him from campaigning ahead of the
presidential elections, expected to be held next summer.
Angry protesters turned to the streets Thursday in the Maldives after a national commission found that its former president hadn't been ousted in a coup, but stepped down legally after losing political support.
“It is time to stop questioning the legitimacy of the government,” President Mohamed Waheed Hassan said after the report was formally released Thursday. “It is time to stop illegal activities and activities that go against generally acceptable social norms.”
Former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned in February after weeks of turmoil, only to tell reporters the next day that he had been forced to step down at gunpoint. Nasheed had ordered the arrest of a top judge whose rulings he believed to be politically motivated, triggering protests and a police mutiny before he gave up his office.
His allies called the shift of power to then-Vice President Waheed a coup. Nasheed said he had been forced out by the same autocratic forces that had ruled the country before it became a democracy four years ago. Nasheed, once a human rights activist, was its first democratically elected leader.
The question of what happened in February was supposed to be settled by the Commission of National Inquiry, which took six months to examine the situation and interviewed hundreds of witnesses.
It found that Nasheed had chosen to step down without “illegal coercion or intimidation,” and that the chaos and conflict leading up to his resignation “were, in large measure, reactions to the actions of President Nasheed.” No one, it said, had ever threatened to kill Nasheed and his family, as he alleged.
The commission also found that Nasheed had violated the constitution by arresting and detaining the judge. Elected as part of a coalition, his support had splintered as he clashed with the business community and religious parties accused him of undermining Islam, its report said.
“This commission does not accept that there was a coup d’etat,” it said. “Rather, it is evident that President Nasheed lost the support of the coalition … which had brought him to power.”
The ousted president of the Maldives has been on the American media circuit, making stops on "The Daily Show" and "Letterman" like a movie star -- which he is.
Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the chain of islands in the Indian Ocean, is the subject of a new documentary about climate change, "The Island President."
The Maldives has an unusually high stake in the global-warming debate: If the seas continue to rise, the Maldives fear they could disappear. It's a message that Nasheed tried to push on the world stage while he was in office, once holding a Cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention.
Since then, the Maldives grabbed headlines for a totally different reason. Nasheed says he was forced to step down at gunpoint in February, allegedly at the hands of forces loyal to the former dictator.
His former vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, now in power, has denied there was a coup and says Nasheed stepped down freely after his decision to sack a judge led to waves of popular protest.
In his recent media blitz, Nasheed has pleaded to protect his country -- both from the rising seas and the forces he fears could blot out its young democracy. He has been interviewed by Time magazine, Salon, even Conde Nast Traveler, and has appeared on television.
"It's easy to beat a dictator through an election. But it's not so easy to flush the remnants of a dictatorship. So they come back -- and when they come back, they come back with a vengeance," he told Jon Stewart on Monday. Here's the video:
Nasheed also appeared on "Late Show With David Letterman" last week, saying of climate change: "What happens to the Maldives today is going to happen to everybody else tomorrow. You know, Manhattan is an island." The video is below:
On the same day last week that Nasheed met with the U.S. deputy secretary of State, he made an appearance on "Andrea Mitchell Reports." In that interview, he said the Maldivian government tried to murder him:
Raucous demonstrations stopped the new leader of the Maldives from opening its parliament Thursday, three weeks after he gained control of the country in what protesters call a coup.
Lawmakers allied with the last president, Mohamed Nasheed, yanked the seats reserved for the new president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, and the parliamentary speaker and blocked the entrance to the chambers, the news outlet Haveeru reported. Some of them wore placards that said "Traitor."
"Total chaos inside parliament chambers. Pictures of members wrestling each other to the ground was just witnessed on television," Haveeru reported in minute-by-minute updates on the protests. Outside the chambers, protesters massed on the streets, waving saffron-yellow flags.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the island nation, had run afoul of the police and parts of the army after he fired a judge. In an op-ed for the New York Times, Nasheed claimed the judge had corrupted the courts.
Google “Maldives” and you’ll get glimpses of impossibly blue seas and gorgeous white beaches. The string of islands is best known as a tourist paradise. It has fewer people than the city of Anaheim.
Now Maldives is making headlines for political upheaval; the president says he was forced to resign at gunpoint in a de facto coup d’etat. Why should we care about this tiny chain of islands?
Though the Maldives is tiny, it is located in a prime spot in the Indian Ocean. Ships carrying billions of dollars of oil pass on their way to China and the rest of Asia. That has made the Maldives a closely watched spot for Asian rivals China and India.
“Depending on who would be in charge, there could be possible disruptions of commerce and transit,” said Karl Inderfurth, who was U.S. assistant secretary of State for South Asian affairs from 1997 to 2001.
Some in India fear that the Chinese will use a “string of pearls” strategy to establish bases in the Maldives archipelago, giving them more strategic and economic power over India. China, in turn, wants to make sure that India can’t interfere with its supply chain if the two nations clash in the future.
The ouster of the Maldives' president, Mohamed Nasheed, could open the door for China to make a play for more influence there. Last year, Nasheed called India a “friend” and told journalists that “there is not enough room in the Indian Ocean for other nontraditional friends." Now that he’s out, that could change.
India has also fretted that the Maldives could become a stomping ground for Islamic extremists. Terrorists bombed a popular tourist destination five years ago, which led to the arrests of about 50 extremists, according to Maldives researcher Ahmed Niyaz.
The islands are dispersed and difficult to govern, which raises concerns that radical groups could use them for training or even as a staging area for an attack on India, said Richard Ellings, president of the Seattle-based National Bureau of Asian Research. Depending on who leads the country, that could become more or less of a threat.
Drug trafficking is another worry for India. “No one would want to see the Maldives become major players in the drug trafficking that goes through the region,” Inderfurth said.
All of those things make the Maldives important to India. Things that are important to India, in turn, are important to the United States, Ellings said. India is a democracy with a booming economy in a region that is often not so welcoming to the West. It cooperates with the U.S. on nuclear issues.
Beyond the geopolitical wrangling, the Maldivian crisis could also be a blow to democracy if Nasheed was forced out of office by the military, as he now claims. The country became a democracy only four years ago after decades of autocracy. A novelist once dubbed it “a beach dictatorship.”
The toppling of Nasheed could be seen as part of “the ongoing disillusionment with democracy,” said Don Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Forum at Stanford University. Decades ago, it seemed like the world was heading inevitably toward democracy, but now “it’s clear there are second thoughts,” he said.
Photo: An antigovernment protester throws back a tear gas canister in the Maldives' capital, Male, on Wednesday. Several thousand supporters of former President Mohamed Nasheed clashed with police and troops a day after his resignation. Credit: Ishara S. Kodikara / Agence France-Presse
REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- A criminal court issued an arrest warrant Thursday for deposed Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed amid further threat of violence in the island nation after rioting a day earlier.
It wasn’t immediately clear what the charges against him were in the confusing and fast-evolving political crisis.
Newly instated President Mohammed Waheed Hassan also moved to assemble a cabinet, naming Mohamed Nazim as defense minister and Mohamed Jameel Ahmed as home minister. Both men have had past differences with Nasheed.
Nasheed, 44, spent much of Thursday with reporters and allies at his house as several hundred supporters nearby formed a protective cordon under umbrellas in the inclement weather. Local media reports said Nasheed had sent his family to Sri Lanka as he awaited arrest.
Government officials and local reporters said a warrant was also issued Thursday for former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu.
In the wake of Tuesday's resignation of Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of Maldives, opposition leaders wanted the military to detain him on corruption charges.
"His rule was tainted with nepotism and corruption, often breaching the constitution," Hassan Saeed, who leads the Dhivehi Qaumee Party, told Agence France-Presse.
The military fended off those calls. "He is not in detention. He is in his residence," Col. Abdul Raheem Abdul Latheef told Haveeru Online, a Maldivian news outlet.
The vice president who replaced Nasheed, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, also promised to protect the former president from retribution, urging his countrymen in a televised address to avoid chaos.
The chain of islands south of India has been a democracy since 2008.
Nasheed had faced down weeks of protests after he ordered the army to arrest a chief justice, alleging that his rulings were politically tainted. The former human rights activist, a sometimes colorful crusader against climate change, was criticized for cracking down on opposition protests while government supporters could gather freely.
"It looks that President Nasheed has over-reached himself in firstly arresting and in refusing to release the judge when the overwhelming public opinion is against taking such a drastic action," S. Chandrasekharan wrote in an analytical article for Eurasia Review.
Opposition protesters also took over the Maldives National Broadcasting Commission and rebranded it as "TVM," its name under autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldivian news outlet Minivan News reported. The opposition began broadcasting interviews and patriotic songs. In the video above, provided by Reuters, protesting police are seen on state television before the president steps down.