Crises in the Maldives

The dramatic arrest last week of Ahmed Adheeb, the Vice-President of the Maldives, has escalated the political crisis in this young democracy, already fragile. The government says Mr. Adheeb was involved in an explosion on board the presidential boat on September 28, and that it was aimed at assassinating President Abdulla Yameen, as rumours in Male had claimed. He has, therefore, been removed on charges of “high treason”. A day after the arrest, President Yameen said his ex-deputy was a “threat to national security”. Under the Maldivian Constitution, if the President dies, is incapacitated, or resigns, the Vice-President takes power. But Mr. Adheeb has strongly denied the charges. His lawyer says the government had asked him to stay put when he was in Singapore a day before his arrest, but he still chose to come back to the country “because he’s innocent”. While there is no doubt that Mr. Adheeb has to be put through due process if he indeed has had any role in the blast, given the power struggles that the Maldives has witnessed over the past three years, there is no telling what is actually happening in this South Asian archipelago that is best known for its luxury tourism.

To start with, President Yameen’s election itself was controversial. In the 2013 election, held after the country’s first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed resigned amid protests, the Supreme Court annulled the first round of voting, in which Mr. Nasheed was leading. The re-vote was delayed by the authorities, allowing enough time for Mr. Yameen, a half-brother of former dictator Abdul Gayoom, to make his moves. The Yameen Presidency has been criticised widely for its intolerance of dissent and crackdown on the opposition. Mr. Nasheed was jailed for 13 years this year on terrorism charges. A United Nations panel had ruled the jailing illegal and called for his immediate release, a call the government rejected. Opposition protests demanding Mr. Nasheed’s release were tackled with a heavy hand. The arrest of Mr. Adheeb, who was picked by the President three months ago to replace his impeached running mate Mohamed Jameel, comes close on the heels of the sacking of Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel. All these point to a growing sense of instability surrounding the Yameen regime. The obvious question that Mr. Adheeb’s arrest raises is whether it is part of a larger power game, or whether the government has credible evidence linking him to the blast. If the government’s claims are true, it should be ready to try Mr. Adheeb in a transparent and impartial process. Meanwhile, Mr. Yameen should be ready to change his authoritarian ways, respect the democratic rights of his people, allow the opposition to operate freely and thereby strengthen the foundations of the young democracy. Only then can he offer a stable government to his people and save the Maldives from this state of flux.