As long as Yameen claims to be working within the four walls of the Constitution, there is nothing much that third nations could do on the ground.

Yameen, power, Emergency, institutions, proclamation, citizens, right to free-speech, freedom of expression, media rights, Yameen, Nasheed, Maldives Opposition, Maldives, Constitution
Flickr user Dying Regime

Even as court-freed former President Mohammed Nasheed called for the Indian neighbour’s “physical presence” and “send envoy, baked by its military,” to face off the Emergency declared by incumbent President Abdulla Yameen, the latter was going steadfast with his crack-down, including the arrest of half-brother and predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and two of the five judges of the Supreme Court, namely, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed. On 1 February, this full bench had ordered freedom for top nine political prisoners, including Nasheed, and restoration of the membership of 12 MPs and thus the Opposition majority in the 85-member Parliament. In a tweet from Colombo, self-exiled Nasheed also urged the US to “stop all financial transactions of the Maldivian regime leaders going through US banks,” thus implying ‘limited sanctions.’

Yameen’s options to stay on in power became restricted to Emergency-proclamation, after the Supreme Court rejected his communication, under Article 115 (a) and (c), asking Chief Justice Saeed that he “act without rendering other institutions powerless.” The court had earlier rejected the government’s petitions, making out individual cases for a ‘review’ of the five-judge full bench decision on freedom for Nasheed and the rest. At that point, neither side seemed to be talking to each other, or talking about ‘re-trial’ and ‘re-investigation’ of the cases against these leaders under ‘established provisions’, as against the earlier procedures on which the Supreme Court ruled in the government’s favour earlier, not any more. Given the inherent powers resting on them, the Supreme Court, or an ‘Opposition-controlled’ Parliament, or both, could still rule the Emergency ultra vires of the Constitution but then the re-avowed support of the nation’s security forces for Yameen could mess up the ground situation more than already.

Yameen’s options to stay on in power became restricted to Emergency-proclamation, after the Supreme Court rejected his communication, under Article 115 (a) and (c), asking Chief Justice Saeed that he “act without rendering other institutions powerless.”

For starters, Yameen declared on 5 February that the Emergency would be in force for 15 days. In between, the Supreme Court is empowered under Article 258 of the 2008 ‘democracy’ Constitution to rule on the same. Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s twin-daughter Yamuna lost no time in moving the Supreme Court in this regard. Though ahead of the proclamation of Emergency, the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) clarified that neither CJ Saeed, nor a brother-Justice, had been arrested as rumoured, while the police said they were investigating them for alleged corruption.

Apart from the Supreme Court, the Parliament has also been empowered to veto ‘Emergency’ proclamation, if it chose to. Under Article 257-A, the government has to submit the presidential proclamation to Parliament within 48 hours, for the vote. It is unclear if Speaker Abdulla Maseeh, against whom the Opposition had moved a no-trust motion this time last year, would convene the session early on, especially after the court’s restoration of the membership of 12 ‘defector-MPs’ of Yameen’s PPM that has pushed the government into a minority in the 85-member house.

There is not much that Yameen could do between now and the end of the 15-day period to convince the political Opposition or the international community to make his regime more acceptable than at present. But he can hope to pack the Supreme Court with ‘friendly’ Judges and also try to effect ‘defections’ from the Opposition, which on the reverse the Full Bench had only condoned through the 1 February order. This is because, for ‘packing’ the Supreme Court with ‘friendly’ judges, the President requires a parliamentary majority, which he has lost with the SC restoring the membership of 12 ‘defectors’ from his camp.

Impeachment move

The proclamation of Emergency does not preclude citizens’ right to free-speech and freedom of expression, including media rights, at least on paper, but it does prevent Parliament from ‘impeaching’ President Yameen and Vice-President Abdulla Jihad. Unlike a simple majority required to remove the Speaker and any or all of the Cabinet ministers, a presidential impeachment requires a two-thirds majority, or 57 MPs in an 85-seat Parliament, which the Opposition does not have but hopes to make up in time, now that the SC has struck a body-blow on Yameen’s anti-defection procedure.

The Government has claimed that the Supreme Court does not have the powers for ‘impeachment’ of President Yameen, which it says rests only with the Parliament. In Parliament, the Opposition would seek to replace Speaker Maseeh first because in times of a presidential vacancy, caused in this case by twin-impeachment, the Speaker takes charge for a stipulated 60 days to preside over fresh presidential polls. The alternative would have been for the Opposition to work with the Vice-President, as President Nasheed’s Opposition did in his time, and hoisted VP Waheed Hassan in the latter’s place for one and half years.


The proclamation of Emergency does not preclude citizens’ right to free-speech and freedom of expression, including media rights, at least on paper, but it does prevent Parliament from ‘impeaching’ President Yameen and Vice-President Abdulla Jihad.


The question remains if Speaker Maseeh would oblige the Opposition by convening an early session. He has already cancelled the year’s inaugural session that President Yameen was to address on Monday, 5 February. Instead, the day is now marked by the proclamation of Emergency, the second under President Yameen, after the one-day. If Yameen were to guarantee the defeat of a no-trust vote against Masheeh, the House will then be chaired by Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik, an ex-Chairperson of Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), one of the many whom the latter had rubbed on the wrong side through his ‘democratic’ climb-up.

Confusing signals

This is the second Emergency proclamation by Yameen. He withdrew the first one after arresting his then ‘trusted’ Vice-President Ahmed Adheeb on charges of attempting to assassinate the President in end-September 2015. At that time, he had proclaimed Emergency for a month, but withdrew it after a few days. Now, Adheeb is one of the nine leaders ordered to be released by the Supreme Court, but after notification on 1 February night, the government moved him to a high-security prison, instead.

Yet, at the same time, the Yameen Government is sending out confusing signals, all round. Even as it arrested Gayoom, the government also released the latter’s political heir-apparent and presidential-hopeful Faaris Maumoon, on Monday night. Faaris was charged with bribing MPs to oust Yameen, but in the case of octogenarian Gayoom, it has added the charge of ‘attempt to over-throw the government’, punishable under the controversial anti-terrorism law, for which religion-centric Aadhalath Party (AP) leader, Sheikh Imran, was undergoing a 10-year jail-term. He was also covered under the SC order of the last week.

India’s options

India has very limited options in the matter, if not none, irrespective of what Nasheed and other opposition leaders in Maldives request. Nasheed’s suggestion to India to send a special envoy seems to be the most practical part of it, if only Yameen feels up to it. He may still hope to advance the presidential polls after the conclusion or early withdrawal of the Emergency, and order fresh presidential polls, way ahead of the November deadline — a possibility that he had offered in his first reaction to the 1 February Supreme Court order.

In his speech, Yameen had also talked about the confusion in the rival camp, and said how Nasheed had divided the four-party Joint Opposition by declaring himself as a presidential candidate immediately after the Supreme Court order. There may be some truth in it, but any advancement of the elections, with a ‘packed’ Supreme Court and with Speaker Maseeh in his place after the top two quit, could make things messier and more unpredictable than already. The new Bench, where three of the incumbent Judges have not been touched, may even be called upon to rule on the 1 February order, and thus set the clock back.


India has very limited options in the matter, if not none, irrespective of what Nasheed and other opposition leaders in Maldives request.


If President Yameen is confident of such a course, there would be no need for him to even quit and order early polls under a friendly Election Commission, after the abiding incumbent chief, Ahmed Sulaiman, quit ahead of the Supreme Court order, over unwillingness to hold fresh polls to the 12 seats that only he had declared vacant without second-thoughts months earlier. That means that Yameen would have to appoint a new polls chief, for which again he would have to go back to Parliament for approval.

India may have other concerns too. As long as Yameen claims to be working within the four walls of the Constitution, however ‘manipulative’ he may be, there is nothing much that third nations could do on the ground. Nor should they do so. For now, India has send out a ‘travel advisory’. So have the US and many western nations, which in political terms are seen as anti-Yameen. But Yameen’s China ‘friend’ too has issued a travel advisory of the same kind, which if interpreted politically, could well mean that Beijing is keeping its options open. In such a case, any great diplomatic push to have Yameen out could be counter-productive as other Third World allies cannot see China as ‘untrustworthy’.

For India, the greater and medium/long-term concern should also be about the continuing need to work with the incumbent government, with shared apprehensions over a ‘failing/failed’ democracy in Maldives. This is turning many youth to take to the IS brand of religious terrorism — a lesson that the world has not learnt even after experiences with and in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and other nations. India needs a government in Maldives first, and a government that can work with it, even if it may be happier, if at all, with someone whom it can work with, too.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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