President of Timor Leste condemns “obvious” coup d’état, “unsettling silence of big powers”

Nobel Peace Prize recipient and President of Timor Leste (East Timor), José Ramos-Horta, has issued a statement condemning “the ousting under military pressure” of President Mohamed Nasheed.

While other countries including the UK and Germany have  called for independent inquiries, Timor Leste has become first country to condemn the change of government as a coup d’état.

A former political exile and reluctant politician-turned-president who survived an a assassination attempt in 2008, Ramos-Horta visited the Maldives in early 2010.

Nasheed had the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) greet Ramos-Horta with a seven-gun salute, and introduced him at a press conference as “no ordinary head of state – he is a renowned, fearless and uncompromising champion of human rights. We can learn from [Timor’s] experiences building democracy and of transitional justice.”

Ramos-Horta at the time praised Nasheed for his “conciliatory” approach to the autocratic regime he had replaced, mirroring it with his own resistance to the “heroic bureaucrats in the United Nations and Brussels”, who “favoured an international tribunal to try everyone in Indonesia who was involved in the crimes of the past.”

“Each country has its realities; its challenges and complexities,” Ramos-Horta explained. “I prefer to be criticised for being soft on people who committed violence in the past than be criticised for being too harsh or insensitive in putting people in jail.

“Our approach fits our reality, an approach the “resident of the Maldives and I share – the need for magnanimity. Immediately after our independence in 1999, I said: ‘In victory be magnanimous. Don’t rub the wounds of those who feel they lost. Make them feel they won, also.’”

In his statement this week, Ramos-Horta recalled that during his visit, Nasheed had “alerted me to tensions in Maldivian society and the unabated activity of beneficiaries of the old political order directed at toppling the new democratically elected authorities.”

It was, he said, “now obvious that President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign by military elements and the move has the support of former Maldivian dignitaries bent on retaking privileges and political control they enjoyed during the former regime.”

“It should be of concern to the World that extremist elements abusively invoking Islam were instrumental in stirring up violent demonstrations, religious intolerance and social upheaval as the coup d’état set in motion.

“Therefore, it is all the more strange and unsettling the silence with which big powers and leading democracies respond to the undemocratic developments in the Maldives. It has been a sad day for democracy in the Maldives and beyond.”

Former Indian High Commissioner

Former Indian High Commissioner to the Maldives, A. K. Banerjee, has also written in support of Nasheed, urging India “to bat for a friend”.

Writing for the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), Banerjee observed that democracies “are notoriously unstable to begin with and need patience and commitment all round. “

“[Nasheed] was getting increasingly frustrated and the opposition confronted him at every step. Nasheed, long used to agitating for change and clamouring for power, did not, it seems, grow in office and his style was quite un-presidential. One could say that he was being democratic and had the zeal of a reformer. But holding office and leading street demonstrations require different hats,” Banerjee wrote.

Since his ousting, Nasheed has “repeated that he handed over power under duress and as a democrat he hopes India will see his position and, literally, rescue him. Not only that, he wants to bring forward elections to challenge the opposition and test their legitimacy.”

“Having made the point that Maldives is a major security issue for us and bearing in mind the overall international scenario prevailing now, we should bat for a friend. Knowing how slippery the democratic playfield can be and having a sense of who actually has fouled, as a sort of friendly referee, we should award a free kick to the player who has been knocked down.”

However, Banerjee said, “there are no free lunches. We should recommend that Maldivians agree to long term strengthening of democratic institutions and resolve their differences peacefully; different factions must talk to each other and work towards a modus vivendi. Above all, authorities in Maldives must be encouraged to respect human rights and avoid use of force to deal with political dissent.”

Police and protesters attack the military’s headquarters on the morning of February 7: