India has become the via media for the warring political groups in the Maldives.
More than a month after Mohammed Nasheed announced his resignation as President of the Maldives following a chain of events that he later described as a “coup” against him, the country has still to recover its political equilibrium.
The main players in the conflict that led to Mr. Nasheed's ouster are still busy in backroom manoeuvres to fortify their positions — Mr. Nasheed; his successor President Waheed Hassan Manik; the proxies of former President Maumoon Gayoom; the General Secretary of the main Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, Abdulla Mausoom, and, the two businessmen-politicians who wield a disproportionate influence in the country, Ahmed Thasneem and Gasim Ibrahim.
After a two-month stint abroad, Mr. Gayoom was back in Male, where the tight security that marked his landing at the Ibrahim Nasir Airport was seen as indication of his importance to the current regime; Mr. Nasheed continues to maintain that the former President, who ruled the Maldives with an authoritarian grip for three decades, was behind his ouster.
Two issues have to be sorted out urgently for the country to make a political turnaround. One, a decision on a date for Presidential elections, and two, actually holding the elections. But this may be easier said than done, as none of the players seems to be in any urgency to break the deadlock.
The political brinkmanship began much before Mr. Nasheed resigned. Barely two years into his first term in office, in 2010, Mr. Nasheed fell foul of all his alliance partners, the Parliament refused to approve his choice of ministers, and the Opposition began a vicious and sustained campaign to paint Mr. Nasheed as a person opposed to Islam.
From December 23, 2010, Male witnessed Opposition protest rallies every single day, which eventually set in motion the series of events that culminated in Mr. Nasheed's resignation.
Ironically, Mr. Nasheed himself hastened the pace of the State moving towards constitutional anarchy when in his last days as President, he ordered the arrest of a judge on charges of corruption on January 16. This act negated much of Mr. Nasheed's achievements: the first democratically elected President of the Maldives, ended up setting in motion a process that struck at the very roots of democratic practices that he had embraced.
Protests and the impact
Also, rather than use the platform provided by the Majlis, Mr. Nasheed has been determined — or even content — to use just one democratic method — that of public protests. His supporters contend that this is necessary since any semblance of normalcy will be interpreted as a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) endorsement of the current regime.
It has not helped that Dr. Waheed has sent out all the wrong signals. He brought back to positions of power, officials and politicians who either did not find a place in Mr. Nasheed's scheme of things, or those who were dismissed. The most conspicuous of his actions was the induction of Mr. Gayoom's daughter into his Cabinet. This sent out the message, unintended or not, that Mr. Gayoom would rule by proxy.
The immediate issue now is convening the People's Majlis to set an election date. The last meet, on March 1, had to be adjourned after parliamentarians of the MDP, who form the largest single group in the Majlis, prevented the conduct of proceedings. The Parliament meet is crucial because it has to approve with two-thirds majority an amendment to the Maldivian Constitution to hold elections ahead of schedule.
India has, by default, become the via media for the warring groups. The Indian Foreign Secretary flew in to Male twice for discussions in an attempt to make peace between the warring sides, but there seems to be a wide gap between the positions the players commit themselves to behind the scenes, and the ones they air on the street.
The uncertainty is telling on the economy. The Maldives archipelago depends mostly on tourists' wallets and to a small extent on tuna exports. Since the crisis began, the dollar has grown scarce as well-heeled tourists steer their private jets farther south to Mauritius and elsewhere. Business confidence has dived.
The stand-off has politicised the police and defence forces, and virtually halted the work of judicial reform. The executive branch is divided along pro and anti-Nasheed lines. Regardless of how the current crisis plays out, much damage has already been done to its fledgling democratic institutions.