Originally Published 2015-01-22 00:00:00 Published on Jan 22, 2015
In Maldives, a midnight police break-in and alleged yet uncontested seizure of 'dangerous weapons' from Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim's residence has led to his unceremonious replacement by Maj-Gen (Retd) Moosa Ali Jaleel, until then High Commissioner to Pakistan.
Maldives President sacks Defence Minister after police recover weapons

A midnight police break-in and alleged yet uncontested seizure of 'dangerous weapons' from Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim's residence has led to his unceremonious replacement by Maj-Gen Moosa Ali Jaleel (Retd), until then High Commissioner to Pakistan. This has ended weeks of speculation about the imminent exit for Nazim, a retired army Colonel, who has since said that the raid on the incumbent Defence Minister's home showed that "no one is safe".

A police 'tactical team', reportedly with masked faces, had broken the door of an apartment residence in capital Male, at around 3.30 am on Sunday, on a court's search-warrant for offences relating to "terrorism, and harbouring weapons and explosives". Though the police continue to claim that they had no knowledge that it was the residence of the minister's wife, post-sacking, Nazim said that a raid on the Defence Minister would not have been possible without keeping President Abdulla Yameen in the know.

In a nation and city where everyone knows everyone else, and a raid is invariably preceded by adequate intelligence input, the police version looks less plausible, whether or not President Yameen was personally in the know. With no Government leader meeting or supporting Nazim in the early hours of the raid, President Yameen's 'surprise' visit to the police headquarters and meeting with nation's police chief, Hussein Waheed, round the corner from the President's Palace, raised more questions than answers.

The President's Office has since said that Nazim had to go pending police investigations into the weapons' seizure. The police said that he and family members did not cooperate enough with the raiding party, though later Nazim said he would cooperate fully. Social media speculation does not rule out politics behind the sacking. Nazim, who has not held back presidential ambitions for the future, told the local media that he would continue to serve the nation as a politician, and would get in touch with 'Opposition groups' after a cooling-off period for the sensitivities attaching to his erstwhile ministerial position wore thin.

Wearing multiple hats under President Yameen - as Defence Minister, National Security Advisor (NSA) and president of the Local Government Authority (LGA), Nazim was chosen to head the emergency Task Force when a drinking water crisis hit Male in December, given in particular the role that the armed forces were expected to play in addressing the issue on a war-footing.

Between the raid and the sack, the President's office and Nazim pledged faith in each other. The Government in particular played out the dichotomy, with the ruling combine's majority members on Parliament's National Security Committee recommending the sacking of a self-styled replacement president for the Nazim-led LGA, but without questioning the former's controversial election, if any. The stoic Government silence over the LGA affair had lent credence to speculation that Nazim was no more in President Yameen's charmed circle.

Nazim's stars began waning after competition of sorts emerged in Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, until recently the low-profile understudy of President Yameen, who also made him the head of the ministerial team on flag-ship Special Economic Zones (SEZ) projects last year. Adeeb tweeted that Nazim's sacking was a 'sad day' when people "changed direction". Earlier, the local media had seen Adeeb's hand in the withdrawal of powers for Home Minister Umar Naseer to issue direct orders to the police. Naseer is another presidential hopeful, having contested in the first post-democracy polls of 2008 and losing a controversial primaries within the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in 2013.

According to Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader and former President Mohammed Nasheed, the raid on Nazim was aimed at recovering documents incriminating Adeeb in recommending -- as acting Defence Minister when Nazim was away on a personal overseas trip -- Immigration clearance for a murder-suspect who has since travelled to Syria, to join the 'jihadis' there. The MDP does not have any love for Nazim either, after charging him with leading police and public protestors from the front on the fateful day of 7 February 2012, leading to President Nasheed's hurried exit, calling it a 'coup'.

However, Nazim's sacking might have stolen the Opposition thunder, particularly of the MDP, for now, after demanding President Yameen's resignation and his handing over power to one-time ally and Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim. As sheer coincidence would have it, the Nazim raid came hours after an MDP rally on Saturday night, when Nasheed repeated the demand for President Yameen's resignation.

It did not help after speculation about a raid on Gasim began doing the rounds only hours after the Nazim raid. The police denied any raid plan, and court officials indicated that no search-warrant had even been sought. By then senior MDP leaders had gathered at Gasim's house, to record their support. Nasheed said they would 'defend' Gasim, a former Speaker, said the nation's security was the responsibility of Parliament. The JP has since clarified that they had not begun any discussions/consultations with the MDP.

All of it has re-injected a state of political uncertainty in the country, triggering revived doubts about leadership stability. While not bothering to explain how under the existing constitutional scheme President Yameen could hand over power to Gasim or any other, without voluntary resignation along with Vice-President Jameel or the impeachment of both when they have a proven two-thirds support in Parliament, the MDP still might have set the cat among the pigeons, contributing to unsettling speculation all over again.

It is unclear if both the Government and the Opposition have been drawing inspiration from neighbouring Sri Lanka and/or India. President Yameen had followed Sri Lanka's former President Mahinda Rajapaksa's fast-tracked impeachment of the nation's 'unsupportive' Chief Justice, by sticking to the letter and not the spirit of the democratic processes and constitutional procedures. The parallels, including the combing of Defence, National Security Advisor and Urban Development portfolios in a single person, are endless.

For its part, the Opposition MDP, which had spear-headed the democratisation protests and processes of the previous decade, continues to draw inspiration from Sri Lanka, larger and closer Indian neighbour and the 'liberal' West, making Colombo their 'political capital' in exile. Leadership changes in these nations have occurred through due electoral processes, under no influence, or even presence of street-protests.

Where street-protests have led to 'regime change', as with the 'Arab Spring', those nations and peoples are now paying the price, by keeping the pot boiling all the time without allowing it to cool or settle down. In an interview to Colombo-based Daily Mirror while on a visit to meet the new Sri Lankan leadership, MDP's Nasheed advised the local polity not to go on a witch-hunt.

That's even more relevant for contemporary Maldivian polity, all-round, where democracy does not seem to have made much difference, either - at least, as yet. Given the immediately preceding parallel of the MDP leadership sacking Deputy Speaker and one-time party Chairman, 'Reeko' Moosa Manik and others earlier, there is greater cause now for the respective leaderships of competing political parties to prove that they are not resorting to witch-hunt of an internal kind against prospective challengers - where again the inspiration could have still come from Sri Lanka.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

Read More +