By N. Sathiya Moorthy*
With the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) once again coming up with a resolution that said all and nothing – at least for now – it is becoming increasingly clear that domestic stake-holders and international players need to re-think and re-work strategies, if any. It could also possibly become a determining factor about their relative seriousness or otherwise towards finding a lasting settlement to the ‘political dead-lock’ of the past year and more.
On the face of it, the CMAG resolution is unanimous. Between the lines, it reads every bit a ‘compromise document’ negotiated by members of the CMAG, which includes India, Maldives’ immediate neighbour and Pakistan, incidentally the host for this year’s SAARC Summit, as the one before it, also on Maldives.
The previous meeting of the Commonwealth grouping had set a one-month deadline for the government of President Abdulla Yameen to initiate certain proposals, but there does not seem to have been any ‘measurable’ action on this score since then. There was no mention of any ‘sanctions’ this time either, a fact celebrated by the government side, now as earlier. It stops there, but may be so only for now, given the calibrated approach of multilateral organisations of the kind.
Increasingly, the Maldivian stake-holders are proving to be ‘paper-tigers’. It is not because/that they had not tried, but it is inherent to their political being. The more the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and its leader, jailed former President, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, seem registering new ‘diplomatic victories’, the more the government leadership of President Yameen seem to be retaining in store, for the future. The stocks can be as much offensive as can be defensive.
The government is thus seen as going one step forward – and at least half, if not two steps backward, on the political initiatives. The Opposition, particularly the MDP and Nasheed, too has begun reacting to the government’s challenges, having lost the pro-active initiatives nearer home, very long ago. Much of the MDP initiatives now reside overseas, and in those of the UN, Commonwealth and friendly nations like the US and the UK.
Like the previous one, the CMAG resolution has tasked the government with initiating the political processes for a negotiated settlement. In the absence of specific references, the likes of Nasheed, who has been jailed for a specific offence under a local court order, may not qualify as ‘political prisoners’. Likewise, the CMAG’s call for political leaders now overseas to participate in the talks could well mean that Nasheed, if and when he returns, would have to go back to prison. He is now in the UK, on medical leave.
The Yameen leadership had offered separate talks with individual stake-holders very long ago. Later, as if to yield to international pressure, it followed up the ‘initiative’ with two rounds of all-party talks in Male, which never really commenced as the MDP and the AP would not talk without their jailed leaders – and expectedly so. Now, it wants to be seen as yielding to international pressure once again, by expressing readiness to talk to jailed leaders, which was not the case until the eve of the CMAG call now.
The CMAG resolution this time has also reiterated the ‘international’ expectation for ‘separation of powers’, and has specifically mentioned the nation’s Judiciary in context. Going by the Yameen government’s repeated claims – and those of President Nasheed’s earlier – the concept is/was very much on paper. Any improvement or checks-and-balances can be introduced through a constitutional amendment.
By implication, independent of the two-thirds parliamentary majority for the purpose, any such measure should also to the satisfaction of the MDP-AP Opposition in particular. All of this takes the nation backs to political negotiations, which again is dead-locked despite the seeming possibilities for the success of the present CMAG resolution, like the one earlier.
It is unclear if the international community, including the UN and the Commonwealth, can afford to be seen as contesting the laws of the land, without being seen as challenging the nation’s ‘sovereignty’ without a division . As much as Maldivians love democracy, they have greater pride as not being colonised by Europeans, unlike the present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It was exploited against the Indian infrastructure major, GMR, by Yameen’s allies of the time in the Opposition, which incidentally included the Adhaalath Party and Sheikh Imran.
The Yameen leadership, while trying to act with great confidence, finds itself yielding to international pressure in particular, inch by half inch. Even if it’s still in the back of its mind, it has stopped talking about quitting the Commonwealth, as used to be the case earlier. Instead, the government has been expressing relief over the CMAG not being on the ‘agenda’, ahead of possible sanctions — and ‘thanking’ nations that had made it possible.
Yet, the government may not be able to ‘justify’ to itself and the rest, the use of ‘terrorism laws’ against political opponents like Nasheed and Sheikh Imran. In Nasheed’s case in particular, the Supreme Court’s verdict would be keenly watched for its pronouncement also on the change of a criminal law trial in the ‘Judge Abdulla case’ into one under ‘terrorism law’, midway through what was already a two-year-old trial (but halted in between, as if to facilitate Nasheed contesting the 2013 presidential polls).
The government has not initiated any terrorism law proceedings of any kind whatsoever against ‘IS brand’ terrorists which it has unequivocally condemned for illegally travelling to Syria and more. At the same time, the international community too cannot talk too much on terrorism law per se in Maldives, given the IS kind of situation. It’s thus on application of the law to what essentially are political/criminal cases which is under the scanner.
The MDP as the main Opposition has tried every trick in the diplomatic book, but has not been able to do much about it. So much so, ahead of the CMAG meeting and coinciding with Yameen’s ‘successful’ India visit, Nasheed called for reforms, not just in Maldives this time, but the Commonwealth as a whole. If anything, member-nations and not certainly former presidents hoping to return to office – talk and talk in public this way.
On the ground, the MDP is still greatly focussed on its goals, but is not doing much about it, after the not-so-successful street-protests of the first half of 2015, demanding Nasheed’s freedom and political dialogue with his presence. After some initial floor-crossing, all of 22 party MPs are sworn to loyalty for Nasheed, and so have been almost all of the second-line leadership and cadres.
Against this, the Yameen camp has been facing one problem after another, first with the dismissal and arrest of incumbent Defence Minister, Col Mohamad Nazim (retd), for ‘plotting’ to overthrow the president. The list of Yameen detractors from inside the camp also includes two successive incumbent Vice-Presidents, both of whom impeached in quick succession.
Of the two, Dr Mohamad Jameel Ahmed is on self-imposed exile overseas, and Ahmed Adheeb is in prison for criminal conspiracy to blow up the presidential boat when Yameen was aboard. There are also other purported political issues in the Yameen camp. Yet, neither the MDP, nor the Nasheed leadership is seeking to exploit the inherent and internal contradictions within the rival camp, preferring the vagaries of ‘international pressure’ that is not easy in consolidating in their favour, so far, so soon.
After the current CMAG resolution, at least two US Senators have called upon Secretary of State John Kerry “to consider all options” on Maldives. In all this, the West has perceived problems of its own, in dealing with third nations of the kind. As if to avoid a China/Russia veto in the UN Security Council, the West seems to have been opting for the UNHRC/CMAG kind of institutions for ‘censuring’ nations on democracy and human rights fronts, with their own set of ‘limitations’ before and after a point.
For and from the international community, it has to decide what has prompted its current initiatives on Maldives – is it just true love for democracy, or its apprehensions about the Yameen leadership going the China way, or the Saudi way, or both – and more. If it is the latter, what if some of them are convinced that Maldives as a nation, and independent of whoever is in power, would not let non-regional powers to muddle the neighbourhood Indian Ocean waters?
If it is still about democracy, the international community needs to give time for a ‘moderate Muslim nation’ that has seen only one-man rule for over a thousand years, time to readjust to modern democracy. In the 21st century global order, they (read: West) should also be prepared for criticism (if not straight from ‘affected nations’) about their own unwillingness to reconsider/revisit the centuries-old conventions-ridden democratic processes in their nations. The fixated US presidential poll process may be a case in point.
To the extent, the domestic stakeholders and international players accept that Maldives is heading towards a deadlock of sorts they need to rethink their own current and old positions. They need to re-work their strategies, if they are equally serious about finding a negotiated settlement. The domestic atmosphere is so divided and vitiated, and not just during the Yameen years, they would need a lot of external facilitation and non-partisan initiatives, with a full understanding of ground realities, and as seen from the ground.
*N. Sathiya Moorthy is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter. He can be reached at: [email protected]