Eight months after the political upheaval in the Maldives that saw Mohammed Nasheed resign as President, fresh turmoil there has belied hopes that the nation would slowly settle down. Mr. Nasheed, who alleged after resigning that he was ousted in a coup, has been arrested for defying a court order. Charged with detaining a judge unlawfully on January 16 while he was still in power, and ordered by the court to remain in Male for the period of the trial, the former President opted to break free of his ‘island arrest’, going off to the southern islands in the archipelago to attend political rallies. He believes that the charges are politically motivated, designed to convict and make him ineligible to contest elections. If that is correct, he is now responsible for handing the courts a far simpler way to achieve the same objective, by convicting him on a possible charge of contempt. Evidently, Mr. Nasheed thinks brinkmanship serves better his political objectives, especially after the Commission of National Inquiry — constituted to go into political events from January 14 to February 8 — destroyed some of his political planning by concluding there had been no coup in the Maldives. It said the change of President was legal and constitutional, and that what happened was a “reaction” to Mr. Nasheed’s own actions as President. Though he has refused to accept the conclusions of the report, he can hardly accuse the Commission of bias. It was at his bidding that its mandate was rewritten; additionally, a Maldivian member of his choice, plus an international co-chair and two other international observers, were added to it.
With the Commission vindicating its stance, the present Maldivian dispensation could have taken the lead in hastening national reconciliation by reviewing the need to bring Mr. Nasheed to trial. And, instead of rebelling himself out of the democratic system that he struggled so hard to establish over two decades, Mr. Nasheed ought to have asked his Maldivian Democratic Party, the single largest in the Majlis, to play a constructive parliamentary role. The CoNI report recommended reforms aimed at making the police, judiciary, the election commission, parliament and the human rights commission more effective and accountable. This is the only part of the report that the MDP accepted, but such reforms are not born overnight; they have to be built through the parliamentary process. India can help by encouraging all sides. It must not be seen as promoting or backing one or the other leader, as was the unfortunate impression created by the recent trip to New Delhi of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former Maldivian dictator-turned opposition leader.