A protester is dragged away by members of the Maldivian Defence Force.
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Maldives Political Crisis: Why Was Emergency Declared in Maldives?

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The Maldives is in crisis. President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency in the island nation on 5 February. Police placed Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ali Hameed, and former President Abdul Gayoom under arrest shortly after.

After the Supreme Court ordered the dismissal of a trial against the country’s former President Mohamed Nasheed and ordered the reinstatement of nine opposition MPs in an order dated 1 February, the government suspended the country’s Parliament.

The country’s capital of Male remains tense, with many members of the international community urging President Yameen to put an end to the crisis and restore order to the country.

So what’s behind the Maldives crisis? Read on.

What is the Maldives Political Crisis?

Maldivian police officers detain an opposition protestor demanding the release of political prisoners during a protest in Male on 2 February.

On 1 February, the Maldives Supreme Court ruled that the trial against former President Mohamed Nasheed, which began in 2012, was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also ordered the release of nine opposition MPs, resulting in an opposition majority in the Maldives.

The ruling Maldivian government, however, did not comply. Instead, on 3 February, the government suspended Parliament. The attorney general then said any action against the President, including any attempt to arrest or impeach him, would be illegal.

The Maldives will also resist any attempt by the Supreme Court to impeach President Abdulla Yameen for disobeying the order to release jailed opposition leaders, the attorney general added on Sunday, 4 February.

On 5 February, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency in the country.

The Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and one more judge were arrested on 5 February, along with former President Abdul Gayoom.

Why is the Maldives Govt Fighting the Country’s Supreme Court?

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.

In its ruling ordering the release of Nasheed, the Supreme Court said it found that prosecutors and judges had been unduly influenced "to conduct politically motivated investigations" into the allegations levelled at Nasheed and others.

The nine had been jailed on charges ranging from terrorism to treason and corruption. The court also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen's party for “defecting” in 2017, saying their removal was unconstitutional.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen's party to lose its majority in the 85-member parliament.

Should the opposition reach a majority, they would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no confidence motions against government officials.

Who's Behind the Rivalry Between President Yameen and Former President Nasheed?

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed in a photo following an interview with Associated Press in Colombo, Sri Lanka on 2 February 2018.

Former President Nasheed won elections in 2008, but was forced to resign in 2012 after ordering the arrest of a top criminal court judge, Abdulla Mohamed, for alleged corruption.

Nasheed then lost the 2013 election to Yameen, and was sentenced to a 13-year jail term in 2015 for arresting judge Mohamed. Though Western countries have said Nasheed's action against the judge was against the law, they also raised concerns over his trial, which they called unfair.

Nasheed is currently in Britain on medical grounds, but is seeking to contest elections against Yameen due by October 2018, posing a big threat to the current president.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain's Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen's administration.

He even got the help of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, to expose alleged human rights violation by Yameen's administration.

What Has the Maldives Government Done so Far?

Maldivian opposition protestors shout slogans demanding the release of political prisoners during a protest in Male, Maldives, on 2 February 2018.

On 5 February, President Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency in the country.

The Supreme Court’s Chief Justice and one more judge were arrested on 5 February, along with former President Abdul Gayoom. As far as the Supreme Court’s order, Yameen has ignored it, but hasn’t explicitly stated that he will not obey it. He also fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court’s verdict last week and continues to jail opposition members.

On Sunday, 4 February, police raided the home of Hassan Saeed, the head of the judicial administration department, which the opposition said was considering a corruption investigation into Yameen. The Supreme Court later annulled the arrest warrant against Saeed.

Members of the ruling party have also sought to shut down an independent TV station, accusing it of spreading "discord," sparking a call from the US embassy in Columbo, Sri Lanka, for Yameen's government to respect the freedom of the press.

What Can the Maldives' Government Do Next?

Maldivian opposition protestors shout slogans demanding the release of political prisoners during a protest in Male, Maldives, on 2 February 2018.

In terms of the order, Yameen has limited options. After declaring Emergency, his administration has arrested the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and another judge on undisclosed charges, along with former President Abdul Gayoom, targeting them the same way he has gone after the opposition members.

That would allow him to reverse the Supreme Court ruling, but at the risk of exacerbating a constitutional crisis. Close allies of Yameen say his main concern is that former President Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb have said they can prove the current president engaged in past corrupt deals if they are released. Yameen has denied any corruption allegations.

But importantly, the army is supporting the president. On 4 February, several police and soldiers said in a live broadcast they were ready to sacrifice their lives "in the defence of the lawful government".

Also Read: Clashes in Maldives After Pro-India Leader Nasheed Acquitted

What is the International Reaction to the Maldives Crisis?

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen has ignored calls from the United States and India, among other nations, to heed the court’s decision on Nasheed, and gone ahead with the declaration of emergency. When the Commonwealth pressed Yameen to uphold the rule of law, his government voted for the Maldives to quit the Commonwealth.

He has also disregarded all international calls to solve the political crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, has so far been silent. But the country is expected to slow down any deals, given concerns about political stability.

Male, the capital of the Maldives, experienced some minor clashes between protesters and the police, but the streets were quiet over the weekend.

Yameen has sought in the past to suppress protests, and on 4 February, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it would stop activities that "openly threaten the security and safety of the Maldives".

Also Read: SC Trying to Impeach Prez Yemeen, Says Maldives Attorney General

(Published in arrangement with Reuters. This article has been lightly edited.)