By N Sathiya Moorthy*
The one thing that stands out in the weekend arrest of Maldivian Vice-President Ahmed Adheeb for an ‘assassination attempt’ against President Abdulla Yameen is that the latter continues to not trust his own choices in senior Cabinet positions. Rather, President Yameen’s capacity at choosing his aides may have come under cloud after a series of misadventures of the same kind. With all of this, the dog-eat-dog ‘palace politics’ in the Indian Ocean archipelago is coming to light.
Vice President Adheeb was arrested on arrival to Maldives after 11 day-long official tour of China. When he was away, his friends and official aides, including two body guards had been sacked or arrested for their purported part in the blast on the presidential launch when Yameen was onboard and was returning from the annual Hajj pilgrimage on 28 September.
Defending Adheeb’s arrest in a national telecast, President Yameen said that his deputy had conspired to have him impeached with Opposition cooperation, and/or assassinated. Explosive material had been recovered from Adheeb’s aides, the President said.
Adheeb’s lawyers, like him, have claimed that he is innocent. They have since argued through the media that holding the Vice President in detention was ‘unconstitutional’, as he had a constitutional duty to step-in if and when the President was incapacitated.
Home Minister Umar Naseer, heading the National Independent Commission, probing the boat-blast, alongside the police, has said that they have enough evidence to get Adheeb convicted.
Be it as it may, Adheeb’s arrest on a charge of ‘high treason’ has brought into question Yameen’s own ability to choose his aides. Adheeb, before being chosen as the Vice President of this island nation became its Tourism Minister, which is among one of the most coveted and important posts in the Maldivian tourism-driven economy. He also went on to become head the SEZ Board for clearing special economic zone projects when the relevant law was passed.
His elevation as Vice President owed to his purported loyalty to Yameen. In fact, Yameen himself got the laws amended by Parliament to bring down the minimum age for the nation’s top posts from 35 to 30. Adheeb is 33.
Adheeb’s ascension to the position of Vice President was preceded by Yameen getting Parliament to amend the impeachment law and have the then Vice President, Ahmed Jameel Mohammed, impeached. Like Adheeb, Jameel was Yameen’s personal choice.
It’s not a stand-alone case of appointments and sackings. The nation has had two Defence Ministers in the past few months – Col Ahmed Nazim, having been sacked and arrested for ‘plotting to overthrow the President’, and successor, Lt-Gen Moosa Ali Jaleel, after the boat-blast (though no direct link seems to have been made).
Whither ‘Nasheed case’?
The events and developments since the boat-blast has pushed to the background the case for former President Mohammed Nasheed to be freed from the 13-year jail-term for the ‘abduction’ Criminal Court Chief Judge, Abdulla Mohammed, when he was in power. The international community that was up in arms against the Nasheed imprisonment now has another reason to rally against the current regime in Maldives, placing Nasheed’s case on the back-burner.
In electoral terms too, the MDP could have come under pressure as much as the Yameen camp and his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The party’s March rally saw only around 2000 turn up to demand Nasheed’s freedom, though it is still has the highest number of registered members, at around 47,000 (in a population of 338,000).
As the things stand, the MDP would require Nasheed as their candidate to win any election and his legal right to contest the presidential poll in 2018 would depend entirely on an acquittal by the Supreme Court, where the Maldivian state itself has moved an appeal against his conviction by the trial court.
After his experience with Vice-President Waheed Hassan Manik, Nasheed still seems to be jittery over trusting anyone else from the party to contest the presidency, have him freed and then making way for him too.
Yameen’s charge that Adheeb had conspired with the political Opposition, and also MPs from his own party, to have him impeached could open a new line of political thinking. The President would have to prove his charge, particularly after his office had killed the early rumours about any Opposition role in the boat-blast. In the early stages, the Government even said that there was no blast, and thus no plot. Instead, it gave credence to the story of mechanical failure.
For the current political troubles for the nation, they had started only with Nasheed’s MDP passing an emergency resolution in December 2014, asking Yameen to hand over power to Gasim Ibrahim, founder of the Jumhoore Party (JP) though the latter in no way fitted into the constitutional precedence in the matter. Under the law, the Vice President and then the Speaker (for 60 days, to preside over fresh elections to the presidency) alone had the right – and Gasim was neither.
Today, Gasim, after Government action against his Villa Group of companies and constitutional amendment to keep those above 65 years from contesting the presidential polls, has become an ardent Yameen supporter.
Whether that could also mean that Gasim would be able to transfer his 25-per cent ‘transferrable’ vote-share, to Yameen in any future presidential polls as he could do in 2013, remains to be seen. Gasim is an outsider to ‘Male royalty’, and his rags to riches story had endeared him to a section of the aspiring youth, from a near-similar background – socio-economic and geographical.
For a nation of its size and population, Maldives too is known for ‘palace intrigues’ for long. In recent times, aides of VP Waheed would say that President Nasheed, in their time, did not share official responsibilities with him.
The Nasheed camp always felt that Waheed was not wholly trustworthy, though the VP was again a personal choice of Nasheed. Both proved right, and Nasheed resigned in a huff and Waheed took over – only to lose the 2013 polls badly.
The events of the past months, where the impeachment of the President is being freely talked about when his coalition has 60 MPs in an 85-member People’s Majlis, should tell a story of its own. If impeachment has not been attempted formally, it may have also owed to the fact that the other camp had also got smarter.
Yet, over the short and the medium-terms, and also the long term in the context of Yameen’s first presidency – he can have a maximum of two terms, if elected – the events of the past months have had a ‘de-stabilising’ effect not on the strength of the Government and the President, but on his own credibility too. In the months to come, Yameen will have to restore his credibility, particularly on the political front.
Leaving aside the massive FDIs that he has planned and hoped for, his leadership may soon have to fight a rearguard action to save the tourism economy – which depends on the ‘travel advisories’ issued by European Governments, in particular.
*N Sathiya Moorthy is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation. He can be reached at [email protected]