President Abdulla Yameen of Maldives declared a fifteen-day national state of emergency beginning on February 5. This was announced in response to a Maldivian Supreme Court ruling that called for the release of nine dissidents and the reinstatement of twelve legislators from the main opposition party.
President Yameen’s declaration of martial law suspends the entire criminal code, according to the United Nations. The day following Yameen’s announcement of martial law, the President ordered security forces to arrest Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, claiming that their ruling was an “obstruction of the very ability of the state to function.” Al Jazeera reports that later that afternoon, the three remaining judges signed a new decision overturning the release of the nine dissidents “upon considering concerns raised by the president.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a statement warning that Yameen’s declaration of a state of emergency undermines the checks and balances necessary for a functioning democracy.
If the twelve legislators are allowed to return from exile, their return would give the opposing party a majority in the 85-seat house. However, on February 3, two of the twelve legislators were arrested while trying to return to the country in order to resume their newly reinstated positions.
The president justifies his actions by accusing these recent developments as being part of a larger, unwarranted plot to overthrow his regime. The Asia Times reports that recent diplomatic and economic developments with China gave Yameen the green light to pursue his political objectives despite fervent public demonstrations and criticism from the international community.
Leading the opposing front is the “unholy alliance between two former presidents, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and… Mohamed Nasheed.” This newfound coalition is especially interesting, given that Nasheed defeated Gayoom, the president’s half-brother who is currently imprisoned, in the country’s first democratic election in 2008 and put an end to his uncontested 30 year reign.
Due to its location at the cusp of Cape Comorin between the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, Maldives could serve as a strategic geopolitical vantage point for the U.S. by providing a place to better monitor Chinese hegemony in the Indian Ocean. The Asia Times claims that the U.S. tried to establish a Status of Forces Agreement with the Maldives during the Obama Administration, but the election of ‘pro-China’ Yameen tainted the efforts.
Nasheed’s call to action may be an important inflection point in Indian foreign policy due to U.S. efforts to secure a regional ally with India and rival China’s regional influence.