The abrupt change of guard in the Maldives on Tuesday marks the culmination of a series of events in the Indian Ocean nation in which Mohammed Nasheed, who resigned as President, emerges as a well-intentioned politician with strong democratic convictions but one who was unable to make properly the transition from activist to leader of a country. Mr. Nasheed's campaign to bring democracy to the Maldives is a story of extraordinary courage that included long spells in prison and exile. As head of the Maldivian Democratic Party, he can take the credit for overseeing the end of the three-decade reign of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — the strongman forced by his relentless campaign to hold the country's first democratic election in 2008. “Anni”, as Mr. Nasheed is known in the Maldives, trounced Mr. Gayoom in that presidential election. But the MDP did not have a majority in Parliament, and was dependent on opposition parties, some of whom supported Mr. Nasheed in the run-off against his predecessor. Unfortunately, he failed to recognise this dependence; instead of cultivating allies, he alienated many in his haste to weed out the Gayoom legacy. Matters came to a boil in mid-2010, when opposition members forced a deadlock by blocking all legislation. Stirring the pot continuously were a range of actors, from President Gayoom's half-brother, who heads an opposition party, to Islamists, who accused Mr. Nasheed of diluting the official religion. In the past few weeks, the capital city of Male saw protests by Islamic radicals, who vandalised a mural presented by Pakistan to commemorate the November 2011 SAARC summit as “un-Islamic”, and a Buddha statue gifted by Sri Lanka.
As a section of police officers mutinied yesterday, Mr. Nasheed could have chosen to declare an Emergency and use force to remain in power. It is praiseworthy, and speaks to his progressive political beliefs, that he stepped down, enabling the vice-president, Waheed Hassan Manik, to succeed him in an orderly and constitutional transition of power. Unless early elections are forced, Dr. Manik will continue in office for the remaining 20 months of this presidency. The new leader is expected to maintain the close and friendly ties that his predecessor enjoyed with India. New Delhi has acted wisely by keeping out of the political tumult in the Maldives, and allowing events to take their own course. Entirely different circumstances dictated India's 1988 decision to send commandos to prevent a coup against Mr. Gayoom by Sri Lankan Tamil militants hired by his Maldivian opponents. In the present instance, any intervention to help Mr. Nasheed remain in power would have served neither him nor India well.