Originally Published 2016-02-04 11:02:47 Published on Feb 04, 2016
Nasheed’s ‘medical leave’ and political campaigns abroad

Jailed former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed has been out of native Maldives for a few weeks now on ‘medical leave’. The question has now arisen if it’s a game of political one-upmanship on the domestic front, involving President Abdulla Yameen on the other end. If so, the additional question arises, if the international community has got caught in it, unwittingly or otherwise.

Ever since Nasheed left for the UK for medical treatment, all news reports have been only about his meetings with political leaders, including British Prime Minister David Cameron at his official residence at 10 Downing Street, and more recently, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma. In the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, en route from Male, Nasheed had met with western diplomats. The Sri Lankan Government promptly denied Maldivian media reports that President Maithripala Sirisena or any other Government leader had met with him in Colombo.

In the UK, Nasheed has also met with his international team of attorneys, including Amal Clooney, and also addressed the local media. He also met with one-time political adversary and former Maldives Vice-President, Mohamad Jameel Ahmed, whom President Yameen got impeached in 2015. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had backed the impeachment, and the legal amendments that Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had piloted for the purpose. After the Nasheed-Jameel meeting, back home, the MDP has decided to expand the Opposition alliance to include the Jameel camp.

In his media briefings, Nasheed has been playing hot and cold about returning home, to serve out the remainder of his 13-year prison term, handed down by the trial court in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. At one stage, he said that he would return to contest the 2018 presidential polls. However, it would be possible for him to do so only if the nation’s Supreme Court absolved him of all charges in the ‘abduction case’. Even a mere conviction without punishment could make his legal and political position contestable.

At their meeting, Cameron and Nasheed reportedly ‘agreed’ that the Commonwealth Monitoring Group visiting Maldives soon would send out a ‘strong message’ to the Yameen government on the human rights front. Cameron later indicated that the UK was considering sanctions against ‘individual’ Maldivians for now. He spoke about the UK and its ‘allies’, including Maldives’ neighbour, Sri Lanka, keeping an eye on the developments in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

In interviews to India’s ‘The Hindu’ daily in London, Nasheed said Yameen’s Maldives was taking a pro-China tilt. In other interviews and news conferences, he said that neighbours, India and Sri Lanka, should once again become the focus in his country. Significantly, only a couple of weeks earlier, India’s Foreign Secretary, S Jaishankar, had met with President Yameen and other Maldivian leaders in Male. Media reports on the visit were positive.

‘Media leave’

Interestingly, not long after Nasheed left the Maldivian shores, President Yameen declared that he was awaiting the former’s return to ‘serve the nation’. Yameen also referred to political reconciliation, at the time. After Nasheed’s meetings in the UK and media meetings, the Yameen government has begun dubbing his ‘medical leave’ as ‘media leave’. It has also referred to Nasheed’s pending Supreme Court appeal in the ‘Judge Abdulla case’. The possible indication was that Nasheed would have to clear the case, for him to be able to contest the 2018 presidential polls.

It is unclear if Nasheed’s ‘medical leave’ also included a strategy for him to be able to move freely overseas, to be able to lead the campaign for his release and ‘right’ to contest the presidential polls, from the front. It is equally unclear if the Yameen tactic of yielding to ‘international pressure’ (as seen by the Nasheed camp, inside and outside Maldives) on the ‘medical leave’ issue included the latter’s anticipated non-return home, early on.

MDP sources had pooh-poohed Maldivian government claims of Nasheed and his brother signing guarantee papers for the former returning home to serve out the remainder of his term – more than 12 years of the total 13. However, the party that has been eloquent with its political statements otherwise has been silent on the issue.


In between, Sri Lanka’s Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake told Colombo-based The Island that his government’s intervention on Nasheed’s behalf was based on ‘humanitarian consideration’ for him to get ‘medical treatment’ overseas. It coincided with observations by Nasheed, his camp, and the US Secretary of State John Kerry, who had dubbed the ‘medical leave’ as ‘release’.

After leaving Male, Nasheed had thanked Sri Lanka and India, among others, for obtaining his ‘release’. As may be recalled, two days after Foreign Secretary Jaishankar’s visit from India, Sri Lanka’s Ravi Karunanayake was in Male. Ravi K is believed to be a personal acquaintance of President Yameen. He was accompanied by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, indicating that Colombo was making the bid for Nasheed’s ‘medical leave’ as much a diplomatic initiative as a personal effort of Minister Karunanayake.

As is evident, it could cut both ways, particularly on the Maldives-Sri Lanka relations. Already, Sri Lanka-Maldives relations got strained after the Sirisena-Ranil government began making public statements on the domestic politics in the latter. Sri Lanka also reportedly expressed reservations about Maldives detaining two of its citizens in the ‘Yameen assassination attempt case’ late last year.

Defence ties

Significantly, PM Cameron’s statement did not mention India as an ‘ally’ that was (also) keeping an eye on Maldives. A week after Foreign Secretary Jaishankar’s visit, Maldives Defence Minister Adam Shareef – third in less than a year – was in Delhi, meeting with Indian counterpart, Manohar Parikkar. Both ministers resolved to further bilateral defence cooperation, training and maritime surveillance. India also offered a fixed-wing aircraft to Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), and added the promised second helicopter for maritime surveillance.

In Male, not only did the newly-appointed Indian High Commissioner Akhilesh Mishra met with senior government leaders, including Home Minister Umar Naseer but also paid a courtesy call on former President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, who assumed office after President Nasheed’s controversial exit of 7 February 2012. Needless to point out, Jaishankar too had not lost time in visiting Male, even before High Commissioner Akhilesh Mishra had presented his credentials to President Yameen.

In between, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has said that China was investing big-time in Maldives owing to the stability factor. She had also visited Pakistan in between, where she reportedly delivered Yameen’s message to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. Incidentally, both nations are members of the Saudi-initiated 33-nation Islamic coalition against global terrorism.

It remains to be seen how the Yameen government reacts to the Commonwealth team after Secretary-General Sharma had met with Nasheed. Earlier, after the Cameron-Nasheed joint observation, the government had played down the team visit, claiming that it had sought the same, for the Commonwealth to help Maldives with political reconciliation (and possible constitutional reforms).

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