Even before he became the first democratically elected President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed had drawn global attention as a climate change hero and a pro-democracy, human rights activist. The former President and one of the founders of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mr. Nasheed, 50, has been living in exile, mostly in London, since 2016 following a criminal conviction.
What did he campaign for?
As a dissident campaigner, Mr. Nasheed was arrested several times during the term of his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His frequent detention prompted his colleagues and supporters to refer to him as the ‘Mandela of the Maldives.’ He was also an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience. Educated in the U.K. and articulate, Mr. Nasheed has been widely perceived as an advocate of democracy in the Indian Ocean archipelago that was gripped for 30 years by what many Maldivians regard a “dictatorship.”
Why did his presidency end?
Mr. Nasheed served as President from 2008 to 2012. He was the first to be elected in a multi-party election. He defeated Mr. Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives for three decades at a stretch. Credited with restoring democracy in the Maldives, Mr. Nasheed gained many fans internationally. In an interview to The Guardian in 2011, the then British Prime Minister, David Cameron, famously called Mr. Nasheed “my new best friend.”
However, in February 2012, following three weeks of protests by Opposition supporters, Mr. Nasheed resigned from office. The protests came as a response to the military arresting a top judge, seen as an ally of Mr. Gayoom. Mr. Nasheed claimed that he was forced to resign, at gun point. “There were guns all around me and they told me they would not hesitate to use them if I did not resign,” he told the media then. The Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, replaced him. He seemed a favourite while contesting in the 2013 elections. However, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen, currently the President and the estranged half-brother of Mr. Gayoom, won by a narrow margin.
Why did he leave the country?
In March 2015, a criminal court convicted the former President on a terrorism charge and sentenced him to 13 years in prison. The ruling was perceived as politically motivated. Countries, including the United States and India, voiced concern over the charges and the ruling, seen as an attempt to keep him out of politics. Mr. Nasheed claimed he was innocent, while Mr. Yameen rejected allegations of a political motive for his arrest and conviction.
In May 2016, the U.K. granted Mr. Nasheed political asylum, amid growing international criticism of the Yameen administration’s apparent slide to authoritarianism. He has since been living in London, making frequent trips to Colombo, where some of his party colleagues and other self-exiled political dissidents live, fearing a political witch-hunt back home.
What are his prospects?
Following a dramatic Supreme Court ruling on February 1, which ordered the release of nine Opposition leaders including Mr. Nasheed, the former President vowed to run for presidential elections scheduled for this year.
However, Mr. Yameen declared a state of emergency within days, and troops arrested the Supreme Court Chief Justice and another judge after storming the court premises. Soon after, the remaining three judges annulled a portion of the order, effectively revoking the release of the nine dissidents.
While some question the legality of the amended order, issued while the Chief Justice is in prison, the Yameen administration’s move has made Mr. Nasheed’s imminent return to Male unlikely, besides drawing sharp international criticism.
Mr. Nasheed has been holding an unlikely coalition of Opposition forces together since last year, after Mr. Gayoom, who leads a break-away faction of the PPM, and leaders from the Jumhooree Party and the Adalath Party agreed to work with him.