In December, I wrote about my fascination with the Maldives and its President, declaring him ‘one to watch’ in 2012. The first democratically elected Maldives President in over 30 years, Nasheed was the darling of environmentalists and our own Prime Minister, who declared Nasheed “my new best friend” in a Guardian interview.
Yesterday, President Nasheed resigned after protests over his rule and an army presence at his house forced him to step down. Reports of a ‘spectacular fall from grace’, a ‘political crisis’ and a ‘coup’, have been reported and the vice president, Mohammed Waheed Hassan, quickly sworn in as leader.
It seems that while being praised worldwide, domestically Nasheed was not popular. Rising prices fuelled discontent among the people, but the final straw seems to be the controversial decision to arrest the chief judge of the Criminal Court, who released from prison an opposition activist who had been arrested without a warrant and therefore detained illegally. So far so normal in the new found power to the people sweeping the world.
However, there are some details that don’t add up to a grassroots demand for change. Nasheed faced constant opposition from supporters of the previous long time ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and from religious conservatives who have long accused Nasheed of being anti-Islamic and trying to introduce Christianity into the country. Even if arresting the judge was a mistake, the opposition party is said to have fuelled the protests, encouraging the police and army to defect.
Nasheed has deep activists roots and has faced persecution in his own country, forcing him to flee several times (finding refuge in Britain) before being elected President in 2008. One of the criticisms levelled against him is that he is trying to moderate this Muslim country. As if in verification of this, 100 bottles of alcohol were found among Presidential belongings removed on his resignation. Possession of alcohol (outside of a tourist compound) is a crime in the Maldives and carries a punishment of 3 years in jail a fine, or banishment. As the opposition becomes more and more vicious, a ‘find’ like this (100 bottles of alcohol??) does raise questions.
Nasheed resigned with a statement saying he refused to use force to restore order on the street. Police and some of the army had joined in the protests at this time and it was feared the protests would turn violent. Nasheed has since made a statement saying he was forced to resign at gunpoint but would not say who was pointing the gun.
Elections are scheduled for 2013 and at the moment it is expected Hassan will take charge until then. However, in light of the last 24 hours, the Maldives is still the one to watch. Unfortunately for very different reasons.
REALTIME: Protests against Nasheed’s removal from power are already taking place in the capital Male; according to Twitter users teargas has been fired and Nasheed himself is amongst the protesters.