In a day of dramatic developments that captured both the fragility of democracy in the Maldives and also the maturity of its political institutions, President Mohammed Nasheed resigned in the face of a mutiny by policemen that he said he did not want to put down by force, handing over the reins of power to his Vice-President, Dr. Waheed.
If the morning started with the “coup” word being bandied about by observers, by evening the entire transition appeared orderly with Parliament endorsing the changeover and the streets of the capital city, Male, appearing calm even if vigorously policed.
According to Maldivian law, Dr. Waheed will hold office till the next elections in late 2013.
Unrest in many sections over the past few weeks, soon after the arrest of a senior judge, hastened Mr. Nasheed's downfall. “This is [more] a culmination of a series of events than a mere trigger like the police going against their orders this [Tuesday] morning,” a senior official said. “President Nasheed is a visionary, is intelligent, is well clued-in. But he could never connect the three. And therein lies his fatal flaw,” the official added. Mr. Nasheed was impulsive and unpredictable, and exhausted his goodwill by 2010. When he was forced out of office, he had none of his former allies supporting him; when he came to power, there were five other parties which supported him.
Things came to a head on Tuesday morning when Mr. Nasheed went across to the office of the Maldivian National Defence Forces. This has been normal with him; but many in the Maldives and elsewhere were of the opinion that a President should summon officers of the defence forces, and not walk into their offices.
This is where things get a little fuzzy. It appears the Defence forces forced him to resign; a charge that is obliquely substantiated by a few top officials. The Maldivian Democratic Party, which Mr. Nasheed runs, termed it a coup and requested international intervention to bring him back. A reconstruction of the events appears to suggest that Mr. Nasheed had signed his resignation under serious pressure. “The political divide since Judge Abdullah's arrest became so deep that both the police and the Army were forced to take sides,” said a politician who did not want to be named. “It was only a matter of time before the worst happened... Nasheed had a great chance. He squandered it.”
According to residents in Male, there have been pitched battles between the police and the military for the past few days. The police were fewer in number, and the country was going nowhere, a resident said. The situation is peaceful now with the Army patrolling the streets, he added.
Earlier in the day, about 50 police personnel took control of the state broadcaster in the capital. They earlier refused to break up a demonstration of Opposition supporters. The Army stepped in and reportedly used teargas to break up the demonstration by supporters of the former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Tensions have been on the rise since last November's SAARC summit at which monuments of all participating nations were put up. The Opposition said this was an attempt to bring in other religions. The Pakistani monument, which had Buddhist drawings on its pedestal, and many others were vandalised.
The scene shifted to Male, with the Opposition accusing Mr. Nasheed of being a moderate Islamist who wanted to allow entry of other religions. It did not help that the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai, in her speech at The Majlis, termed flogging barbaric and espoused the cause of women's rights. Again, the Opposition flocked to Male.
Male held on because Mr. Nasheed's support base was mainly in the two cities — the capital and Addu. Also, Mr. Nasheed and his team have been at pains to explain that the Opposition's charges were baseless. Apart from speaking to people, the team went on a slander campaign against the opposition. The better equipped Opposition was up to the challenge. It responded with a series of charges and behind-the-scenes moves, including re-activating its people within the government machinery.
With Judge Abdullah's arrest last month, the Nasheed regime alienated the entire judiciary, and lawyers. They too joined in the protests.
Mr. Nasheed has had a hard time since he came to power in 2008. He headed the first democratically elected government, but did not have adequate support in The Majlis, leading to an impasse on most issues of governance. Mr. Nasheed had had the staunch support of both Colombo and New Delhi so far. But he squandered this goodwill too.