Talk of Another Coup in the Maldives

Posted on 02/13/14
By N SathiyaMoorthy | Via Minivan News
A view of political violence in Maldives in 2012. (Photo by dying regime, Creative Commons License)
A view of political violence in Maldives in 2012. (Photo by dying regime, Creative Commons License)

Former President and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supremo Mohamed Nasheed has given what may be seen by some as a timely warning to the nation and incumbent, Abdulla Yameen, about ‘another coup’.

In doing so, he has implied that there is an urgent need for institutional reforms if such a course is to be averted. In an interview to MDP-supported Raajje TV, he claimed that some Supreme Court Judges were also behind what he reiterated was a ‘coup’ to oust him from office in February 2012 – but did not elaborate or provide substantive evidence.

That there is an urgent need for ‘institutional reforms’ in democratized Maldives is conceded readily by all sections of the nation’s polity. Most leaders now in the fray were also members of the Special Majlis that drafted and adopted the current 2008 constitution. For them to concede that they may have blundered, without actually having the courage to acknowledge it as such, should be welcome.

There is, however, a need for urgency in pursuing these issues within a more substantive and meaningful national dialogue. Such a dialogue may have to wait for a new parliament to be elected in the 22 March polls. It will be equally interesting to observe what various political players have to say on such issues during the current campaign period.

The various political positions that could be taken by different political parties will in turn be based on their own experience with the existing constitution (as they perceive it), and their expectations (as they conceive it). There is no guarantee that they would not err again, but ‘dynamic societies’ like the Maldives would always have to make constant and continuing compromises – either now or later.

It may become more difficult under different circumstances and under newer players on a distant day to attempt such changes.

Mis-reading, mis-leading

The present reference to ‘another coup’ apart, this is the second occasion in almost as many weeks that former President Nasheed is hinting at a change of national leadership. On the earlier occasion, media reports quoted him as saying that the MDP would move a no-confidence motion against President Yameen in the post-poll parliament, and have him removed at the first available opportunity?

Such reports will sound credible only if the MDP is able to muster the required two-thirds majority in what will become an 85-member parliament, up from the current strength of 77. It also implies that all MPs belonging to the party would stand by the leadership and its diktat, to vote out the incumbent. Whether it would have to be accompanied simultaneously by a no-trust move also against the incumbent vice-president – if the political strategy was to ensure early polls to the office of the president – is a moot question.

Alternatively, the MDP – which is still the single largest party – both within the People’s Majlis (the parliament) and outside, could muster those numbers if, and only if, MPs (members of parliament) belonging to the ruling coalition led by President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) were to cross floor, either as constituent parties or individual members.

In a country where ‘defection’ has been a password for political survival, both before and after the advent of multi-party democracy, such a scenario is not unimaginable.

In this background, Nasheed’s caution towards the incumbent and the nation is likely to be mis-read and hence misunderstood. Whatever the scenario one were to look at, such a scare has the potential to destabilize the nation’s polity and political administration all over again. In political terms, it could become an electoral tool in the hands of the adversaries of President Nasheed and the MDP, in that order, during the run-up to next month’s polls.

In the ensuing melee, both the MDP and former President Nasheed could be dubbed ‘over-ambitious’ and politically greedy – which need not be the case. The two will have to remember that within the high vote-share for Nasheed in the final-round poll in the November elections, a substantial numbers were ‘non-party’, non-committed voters. Given the turbulent, and at times violent, turn that multi-party democracy has taken since inception in 2008, this section of voters in particular could feel ‘uneasy’ and ‘uncomfortable’.

Going by the second scenario, encouraging defection can cut both ways. The present parliament saw both the MDP losing and gaining from defections. To an extent, it also dependent on the ‘incumbency’ factor. It was among the various factors that helped the MDP become the single largest party after coming second in the 2009 parliamentary polls, and later going on to become the ‘majority party’ as well.

Cross-voting, if not outright defection, also worked against the party’s diktat when MDP parliamentarians more recently helped ensure the mandated Majlis clearance for President Yameen’s cabinet.

It is the third of Nasheed’s possible apprehensions about a ‘possible coup’which should be of greater concern. It is here that his reassurance that he “will do everything” in his “personal capacity” to prevent a coup from taking place assumes significance. Given the context, and the MDP’s claims to his losing power to a coup in the past, it has now become morally, if not legally, binding on both to share whatever details that might come their way, now or in the future, with the nation and the government of the day.

In the same vein, however, Nasheed has possibly reiterated his past reference to a no-confidence vote when telling Raajje TV that “we will work within the legal ambit to ensure that the transition of power takes place through an election”. This may have made the earlier ‘reassurance’ as unsettling as it may be untimely – not only for the nation but possibly for the MDP too.

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