‘Coup of opportunity’ derails Maldivian democracy: Reuters

It was an ordinary blue felt pen, and not a bullet, that killed Mohamed Nasheed’s term as the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, writes Bryson Hull for Reuters.

“After rising to acclaim as a champion of democracy and action against climate change, Nasheed is now back on the streets where he led a nearly two-decade campaign to bring full democracy to an archipelago ruled more like a sultanate.

A Reuters investigation, drawing on more than a dozen interviews including with witnesses who have not spoken out before, reveals a coup of opportunity that capitalised on opposition discontent, political missteps and police and troops loyal to the old order.

Nasheed says a cabal of former regime strongmen conspired with opposition leaders to force him to make a choice: resign in two hours, or face the introduction of live ammunition into a duel between loyal and rebelling security forces, then only being fought with batons and rubber bullets.

“The generals were in league with the mutinous police,” Nasheed said at a recent news conference, acknowledging that he had erred in not clearing out officers loyal to Gayoom.

“We never did a purge of the military. We have a history of murdering our former leaders and I wanted to change that.”

Even as the Commonwealth urges an investigation and new President Waheed has proposed a presidential commission to investigate his own ascendancy, military leaders have taken no chances.

They have emptied the four armories around Male and put the weapons inside the MNDF headquarters after some tense squabbles between factions inside the forces, three sources told Reuters.

This week, the criminal court threw out several graft cases against opposition figures, a sign of the old impunity provided by a pliable and poorly educated judiciary.

Nasheed’s supporters remain on the streets in peaceful protest, demanding an election be held before it is due in October 2013, which the new president has said he will do if the conditions are right.

“I think it is important that democracy be upheld there, and there is concern that the president (Waheed) might find himself heavily influenced by the previous Gayoom regime,” a diplomat from a Commonwealth country told Reuters.

“There must be no return to the pre-2008 days. The importance of the early elections it to ensure there is a clear democratic mandate.”

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