It is unusual to get advance warning of an attempt to topple a government. Ousting leaders are risky undertakings and any effort relating to it along with the names of the plotters are kept secret. But it wasn’t the case with Maldives, where the media said that they’ve got an inside information that such a plot is going to take place.
Maldives is a country made up of many islands and atolls, with most of its population residing in Male, the country’s capital. The capital consists of all the country’s key institution. The country held its first free elections in 2008, when the dictator leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, often accused of corruption, had to back down and give way for democracy. He lost heavily in those elections to Mohammed Nasheed. The new President rolled back the regressive laws, strengthened the democratic institutions and captured the world’s imagination when he held an underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the issue of rising sea level and its risks. However, Mohammed Nasheed’s plan to have Maldives as a model Islamic democracy didn’t last long. 4 years into power and he was ousted in a coup. Now Mr. Nasheed lives in self-imposed exile in the UK, with Abdullah Yameen, half-brother of Maumoon Gayoom now heading the country.
The current president, Mr. Abdullah Yameen, faces allegations of corruptions dating back to more than a decade. These including an oversight of oil sales worth $300 million by a company headed by him to Myanmar’s military dictatorship when under economic sanctions. This is combined with allegations made by the former President, Nasheed that half the money disappeared. The amount is huge for a tiny nation like Maldives. Further, Mr. Yameen faces growing opposition for purging his potential rivals. Some have criticized Mr. Yameen for a recent change in law which will allow the government to sell islands without competitive bidding.
Mr. Nasheed and Mr. Yameen have had many clashes over the past few years. Mr. Nasheed alleges that it was Mr. Yameen and his supports who led the coup against him. He also alleges that this was on account of the fact that his government sought to recover $400 million that Mr. Gayoom and his associates had looted. Not only have there been allegations of corruption but also opposition to the autocratic rule. With the present government passing a new defamation law that criminalizes any criticism of the government, the journalists in the country have resorted to open criticism.
Along with corruption and political turmoil, Maldives faces significant risks in the short to medium term. It seems that the report of toppling Mr. Yameen might be true with former President Mr. Nasheed flying to neighboring Sri Lanka to hold talks with the opposition groups. Perhaps the future of tiny island nation in Indian Ocean and that of its democracy, looks grim.