Originally Published 2015-11-05 10:23:15 Published on Nov 05, 2015
The question of the emergency-declaration by Maldives President Abdulla Yameen being a political ploy for the President if only to effect an across-the-board purge, needs even more convincing arguments than what former President Nasheed's MDP has now put forth.
Maldives: Where from here after emergency

Going beyond politics, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen's declaration of month-long 'Emergency' on November 4, 2015, needs to be viewed with the seriousness that it deserves. If not proved otherwise, the recovery of weapons and ammunition, stacked in the armoury of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) from different places across the atoll-nation is justification enough for the Government to take a closer look at the security situation and the stability of the political establishment.

This is not the first time that Maldives has faced a 'purge' of sorts, on the political and security fronts. A predecessor President in Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had resorted to similar efforts, first after taking over in 1978 and later on, at the height of the 1988 coup-attempt that was aborted with timely military assistance from India. But this is the first time that a serving Vice-President has been charged with 'high treason' and a section of the nation's security apparatus has been named 'traitors'.

In a highly-politicised and equally polarised society which Maldives has become, particularly since the advent of multi-party democracy in 2008, a political role for individual soldiers, from top to bottom, cannot be avoided, at least as an emotional quotient of daily existence. But this is possibly for the first time that weapons-recovery of the kind has happened. In a nation where the police is not allowed to carry and use weapons and where even the armed forces could take them out of the armoury only under the written orders of the President, the Supreme Commander, it is saying a lot.

Suffice is to point out that at the height of the volatile situation that led to President Nasheed's dramatic resignation on 7 February 2012, he had refused to allow the MNDF to pull out weapons from the armoury, to quell a possible riot, also involving a section of the uniformed services, particularly the police. Nasheed did not allow the security forces to use weapons other than the baton and tear-gas on anti-Government protestors at the time, and went down resigning his post, ultimately.

Yet, larger questions remained, which have come to be flagged now - or, so it seems. The 'December 23 Movement' against President Nasheed, leading up to his resignation, also witnessed the Government pulling out the Maldives Police Service (MPS) from crowd/riot-control, to be replaced by the MNDF. One logic offered in private related to the unflinching loyalty of the armed forces to the Supreme Commander whereas the police tended to be argumentative, and sought to look at issues from a point of post facto legal and judicial scrutiny.

It is this unquestioned loyalty of the MNDF to the office of the President and the person thereof that may have come under a cloud just now. In an archipelago-nation where no amount of human resources would be adequate to secure the nation's sovereignty and territorial integrity, any division within the MNDF and also the MPS and other security and quasi-security agencies of the Government could hit at the bottom of the State structure as a whole.

Maldives does not have other resources either, to be able to hand over the nation's security to third nations as Saudi Arabia may have done with the Pakistani troops with regard to certain key tasks. It is another matter if an 'emergency' for a month would suffice to set right the current situation. The Government is also duty-bound, more than ever, to restore the credibility of institutions during the period. On it would be hinged the nation's continuity as a democracy, and also the stability of the political processes and leadership.

In particular, it would have to convince the nation, and also the international community, that the charges now levelled against VP Adheeb and the rest are genuine and not just a political ploy to deflect and/or stone-wall criticism on other fronts. Though no nation is talking, the West in particular would be curious to know if it was all a part of a plan to take the nation away from the case of freedom for President Nasheed. How it attempts the same, and how much it achieves would be watched with interest and concern.

The proclamation near-automatically comes in the way of the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party's (MDP) planned protest rally for November 6, seeking freedom for imprisoned former President Mohammed Nasheed. It could also help fast-track the possible parliamentary impeachment of jailed Vice-President Ahmed Adheeb, when doubts came to be expressed over the required numbers in the People's Majlis for the purpose.

For the record, the previous MDP-led rally, on the same demand, months ago, was not as much of a success as was expected to be - given in particular the party's large membership of active and street-smart cadres. There is nothing to suggest that the desperate and equally disparate second-line leadership, without Nasheed physically taking charge from the front, both as a tactician par excellence and the most charismatic leader in the country, is capable of mustering massive numbers as he alone had been able to do in the past.

Doubts do remain on the numbers required for VP impeachment, which requires two-thirds vote in the 85-member Parliament. The MDP has since decided not to support the impeachment motion, when taken up for vote in Parliament. The ruling coalition, led by President Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), now headed by half-brother Gayoom, has a total of 67 MPs, as against the cut-off number of 57.

However, the Government parties could muster only 52 signatures for moving the impeachment motion, but promised full turn-out for the vote. But not all MPs of the 11-member Jumhooree Party (JP) of business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, an ally-turned-adversary-turned ally of President Yameen, could be said to be on the same page as the party founder. Some PPM members too had voted against a recent amendment to the anti-terror law. However, in the absence of an anti-defection law, as in India, for instance, floor-crossing could still cut both ways, as it had done against the MDP since the parliamentary polls of March 2014.

Yet, the question of the emergency-declaration being a political ploy for President Yameen if only to effect an across-the-board purge needs even more convincing arguments than what the MDP has now put forth. An experienced and even more shrewd political strategist than tactician, he is not unaware of the pitfalls in putting the MNDF in particular on the line. It could become as much personal as it could be political. Rather, the reverse now seems to be the truth - or, that is what we are being told.

The arrest of VP Adheeb, on return from an 11-day official visit to China, on charges of plotting President Yameen's assassination through a speed-boat blast, was/is saying a lot. The VP's arrest was preceded and followed by such other arrests and sackings at all levels. Senior MNDF and MPS officials did not escape the presidential wrath - be it for alleged participation in the plot or for dereliction of duty, or for suspicions that it could not have happened without someone at the top not knowing anything about it.

The last mentioned reason for sacking and/or arresting some could also imply that there is a disconnect between the President and the rest in his administration, almost each one of them hand-picked by Yameen after assuming office in November 2014. This could lead to a 'suspecting the shadow' syndrome, which is no way for any leader to run any government in any nation. It's more so in a nation like Maldives, where the large open-seas provide occasions and opportunities for political temptations and personal ambitions of every which kind.

Loose weapons and more

It is still unclear if the pre-emergency police declaration that there were still loose weapons around, ready to be used against individuals and the rest meant a further possible targeting of the person of President Yameen. It is also unclear if all those weapons, apart from those already seized in raids and identified, too belonged to the State armoury. Though the police said that their claims were based on intelligence, it is unclear if the suspicion about 'loose weapons' were based on an inventory of the stocks in the MNDF armoury, where figures might not have matched.

The boat-blast, from which Yameen escaped narrowly on 28 September, apart, the police on Sunday recovered explosives from a truck, parked not far away from the President's official residence, 'Mulliagae'. The police have also reportedly arrested a Sri Lankan sniper, an ex-soldier in that country. Both seem to have been based on credible information/intelligence. These are also unprecedented in contemporary Maldivian history as many of the other incidents and episodes of the recent days and weeks have been.

Possibly radiating panic all round, the police has said that "there was credible intelligence to suggest some people were in possession of more weapons. Those weapons had the potential of endangering the lives of the people", Haveeru Online quoted senior police officials as telling a news conference in capital Male. "We can confirm that these weapons would be used in a general attack or utilized to launch an attack on particular individuals," the acting police chief said, preceding the announcement of emergency-declaration by Attorney-General, Mohammed Anil, at the Presidential Palace.

The Government is yet to make clear if the MNDF soldiers alleged to have been involved in the plot to assassinate/impeach President Yameen were a part only of a political plot with which VP Adheeb has since been charged - or, if there was more to it, viz jihadi forces of the international IS kind. The present indications are that the purported IS threat to President Yameen and others, circulated on the social media until YouTube pulled it out only hours later, might have been a diversionary tactic of some sort, but no conclusive proof has been provided on either.

On the blast itself, the American FBI has not concurred with the findings of Sri Lankan and Saudi Arabian forensic experts' findings of the use of high-grade explosives of RDX kind, and the Government has not attached much importance to the former. Yet, the Government has also not clarified if VP Adheeb was plotting with the political dissidents and opponents of Yameen to impeach him on the one hand, and also with dissenters within the Government and the uniformed services, to assassinate him.

For now, the Government has stuck to the position that the political Opposition in the country was not capable of assassination-plots of the kind, and that they were only street-fighters and just that - a positive reference under the circumstances to the MDP in particular. It thus remains to be seen if President Yameen would use the one-month emergency period also to mend fences with the political Opposition in this hour of national crisis - which would imply his facilitating early freedom for predecessor Nasheed.

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

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