Islam will not be at the center of the current National Unity government’s agenda in the coming months, however judicial reform should proceed in close alignment with the constitution, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Mavota Shareef has said.
DRP has pledged to support President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who was sworn in today following Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation at 1:00 this afternoon under pressure from security forces. Opposition parties have formed the National Unity government under President Waheed.
While unable to provide details of the government’s plans, Shareef emphasised a need for cohesion.
“There is so much distrust among political parties, we cannot allow for further divisions,” Shareef said, adding however that the party does not expect any serious problems to arise as the new ‘national unity’ government moves forward. “We will have to heal these wounds.”
Shareef is also a member of the 23rd December Coalition’s steering committee, which organised a protest on that date in 2011 calling for the the defence of Islam in the Maldives. Although international media has reported today’s events – described by Nasheed’s party as a military coup – as a sign of growing fundamentalism, “those values [of 23 December] are not really a central concern right now,” Shareef told Minivan News.
Opposition-led protests began on January 16 when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military, after blocking his own police summons. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was criticised by the opposition for ordering the judges’ “unlawful” detention, while the government requested international legal assistance from the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Commission to resolve the growing judicial crisis.
That UN delegation was due to arrive in the Maldives on December 9, along with “technical expertise” from the Commonwealth. Representatives from the UK High Commission, the Commonwealth and the UN now due to arrive in the Maldives for related discussions this week.
However in a sudden shift, a detachment of police last night assisted opposition demonstrators in an attack on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camp. Police subsequently clashed with the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) early this morning, triggering violent riots, an assault on the MNDF military base in Male’, and an overthrow of the state broadcasting station.
By late morning the government had declared the situation a military coup.
Stating that he would have to use military force and possibly open the Maldives to international intervention in order to stay in power, Nasheed said those terms were against his values and resigned from office.
The MDP subsequently issued a statement this evening that the opposition had taken control of the police and army, and “offered an ultimatum to President Nasheed: step down or be faced with a bloodbath in the capital. President Nasheed thus resigned in order to protect the public from further violence. His resignation was involuntary in that he had no choice.
Shortly after his swearing-in, Dr Waheed addressed the nation saying he was grateful to the police and MNDF who had made “great sacrifices” to defend the constitution.
“Today is the day the rule of law has been established in the country perfectly,” Dr Waheed said.
“I will not order the police, military or any person to do anything against the law – I promise it to the public. Everyone will have the protection of constitution and laws.”
According to the constitution, Waheed must appoint a new Vice President to be approved by Parliament. Elections may be held within six months, or Waheed may complete the remaining two years of Nasheed’s term.
Shareef said he was confident that no elections would be held, and advocated that the new President “will have to form a cabinet as soon as possible.”
Although no members of Nasheed’s cabinet have resigned, Minivan News understands that the names of 57 individuals from the cabinet and the parliament, as well as the recently replaced chiefs of police and military forces Ahmed Faseeh and Moosa Ali Jaleel and former President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, have been forwarded to immigration for no-travel restrictions. The list is said to be growing.
Shareef believes judicial reform will continue to be at the forefront of the government’s agenda, however he said it “should be done lawfully”. Nasheed, he said, “made several mistakes. The [MDP] party called for chaos and anarchy, using well-known gangs and thugs in Male’ to lead to armed forces’ frustration,” he alleged. The government at the time made similar claims against the opposition.
“If there is an issue with the judiciary, please use legal means- such as parliament and passing new laws- to reform it. For two years we have waited for a criminal justice policy, a penal code and other amendments to be passed but they haven’t been done. Instead we’ve had three attorney generals in the last three years, and none could get those things done,” he said.
“Since we changed to a new constitution, we need supporting laws to become functional,” he added.
Minivan News inquired whether the international legal delegations would be consulted in spite of the change of power.
“Foreign expertise is necessary to enact judicial reform,” he said, noting that many laws are pending Parliament’s approval.
Opposition leaders on January 30 met with the Vice President, pledging allegiance and urging him to assume control of the executive.
Following that meeting, Vice President of the PPM Umar Naseer said all the parties in the opposition alliance had agreed to “pledge support to the Vice President.”
“After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 alliance’ of all the opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the VP,” Naseer said.
“I repeat, all members of the December 23 alliance are now calling on the security forces to immediately pledge allegiance to Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and, as Mohamed Nasheed has violated the constitution, to not obey any of his orders and to pledge allegiance to the Vice President.”
Members of PPM could not be reached at time of press.
UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has issued a statement expressing “his strong hope that this handover of power, which has been announced as a constitutional step to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has polarised the country in recent months.”
Ki-Moon “calls on all Maldivians to refrain from violence and engage constructively in addressing the challenges their country is facing and to protect and build upon the important gains the Maldives has made in recent years in establishing democracy and rule of law.”
The Secretary-General acknowledges the important contributions of President Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected president, to the establishment of democracy in the Maldives and his role in raising international awareness of the dangers of climate change and rising seas. The United Nations will remain a close partner of the Maldives and will continue to extend its support in the period ahead.”=Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay told Minivan News that India was “in dialogue with all stakeholders n the aftermath of the day’s events.”
“All parties are committed to peace,” he said, adding that he had been “assured things are handled in a mature fashion.”
He did not comment on whether Nasheed’s government had requested or been offered Indian intervention.
The Commonwealth said it was “gravely concerned about the political and constitutional developments in Maldives. At the request of the Chief Justice and Government, a Commonwealth Secretariat team of five officials arrived in Maldives on 6 February, to explore how the Commonwealth can respond to the country’s urgent priorities, including strengthening the judiciary and the separation of powers. The Secretariat team includes political, legal and human rights officers.
“The Commonwealth team is consulting with the full spectrum of stakeholders to assess the current situation and the Commonwealth’s possible contributions in the short, medium and long-term.
“All Commonwealth member countries have committed themselves to the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, including a commitment to constitutional democracy, peace, the rule of law, and human rights.
“The Commonwealth stands ready to continue to support Maldives to uphold its constitution, strengthen its institutions and reinforce the culture of democracy. We urge all to respect the rule of law and the constitution, and to refrain from acts of violence.”
Several countries have issued travel warnings for Male’ after today’s surge in political turmoil.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island. There are political demonstrations in the capital Malé, which have resulted in violent clashes between government and opposition supporters, and later the police and defence forces. The situation remains uncertain. If you are in Malé, or choose to travel to Malé, you should exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings.”
There are currently no reports of social unrest or demonstrations at Malé International Airport, or at the tourist resorts and other islands, the FCO said, asking tourists to check the situation with travel and tour operators.