Charges of extremism roil Maldives | Daily News

Charges of extremism roil Maldives

Police at the scene after the bomb blast which injured former Maldives President and current Speaker Mohamed Nasheed in Male.
Police at the scene after the bomb blast which injured former Maldives President and current Speaker Mohamed Nasheed in Male.

Battle lines are getting increasingly drawn deeper in what is increasingly becoming a fratricidal war of words and nerves between rival factions of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to the extent that traditional sympathisers are losing hopes for the party and by extension the ‘toddler democracy’.

With mainline Opposition Leader, former President Abdulla Yameen, remaining jailed and, thus, disqualified from contesting the 2023 Presidential Polls unless the Supreme Court acquits him in the nation’s worst financial scam from his days in office, neutral voters are concerned. They are afraid that the archipelago nation may slip into some form of religious anarchy, if only over time and if the current trend is left unchecked.

The latest in a series that has flagged such concern is a resolution passed by the faction identified with Speaker and Party Chief, Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed. He is convalescing in the UK after treatment for the injuries sustained in a May 6 targeted bomb attack in Malé. The resolution called upon President Ibrahim Mohamed ‘Ibu’ Solih, also belonging to the MDP to proclaim emergency under the Constitution, to stamp out that what Nasheed called as “religious extremism”, both from within the Coalition Government and outside of it.

Though they have not come out in the open to the same levels as the rival camp, in private, Solih group members are asking if the party would attract de-registration for directing the President in what the Constitution says is his exclusive executive preserve. The problem could arise if any voter moved to either the Election Commission or the Supreme Court, or both.

On the political front, they are even more concerned about the miniscule Opposition moving a no-trust motion against Speaker Nasheed in Parliament, which would forcibly widen the MDP rift. In particular, they could cite the Speaker initiating a ‘letter-and-spirit violation of the Constitution’. According to them, the rival Yameen camp’s hesitation may flow from the possibility of such a move reuniting the MDP factions, which they would naturally detest.

The MDP has a two-thirds majority in Parliament with 65 of the total 87 seats. Within the MDP parliamentary party, the Solih camp reportedly commands a two-thirds majority or more. It is also one reason why Nasheed is seemingly relying on his statements or the General Council at best, where the 6 May blast has arrested the perceived depletion of cadre-support for him.

With the required minimum of 37, the General Council passed the Resolution moved personally by Nasheed, 39-4, with twice as many absent. Noticeably, amongst the dissenting voices was that of Ali Azim, the Majority Leader in the Parliament, otherwise identified with the Nasheed camp. At the General Council, Ali Nazim pointed to the exclusivity of the President’s powers in proclaiming the Emergency and how the party should not pass such a Resolution without involving Solih, who too was from the MDP.

Elsewhere, Ali Azim spoke of a signature campaign for Parliament to prioritise work to ‘stamp out religious extremism’, thus, drawing a distinction between what can be done and what should not be done. He also met with President Solih in the company of party MPs identified with the former, at a regular session to discuss legislative business. Under normal circumstances, Nasheed as Party Chief would have been present, to share the chair with President Solih.

Allies back up

Nasheed preceded the General Council Resolution with a stout denial of the police’s claim that they were yet to record his statement. Turning emotional, he asked, “Wasn’t what was written on my body, heart, and liver not enough?” In a tweet, MDP Parliamentarian Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonde’ contested the police finding that there was no evidence to any money transaction behind the blast. “It does not make logical or intellectual sense,” he said, without explaining.

President Solih continues to maintain a dignified silence, which can cut both ways. In his recent Independence Day address, he stopped with endorsing Nasheed’s call for putting down extremism. However, MPs belonging to his camp in the MDP and alliance leaders, have all begun rallying up. The leading voice was that of former President Maumoon Gayoom.

As the leader of the junior-most Maldives Reform Movement (MRM) ally in the ruling coalition, Maumoon, as he is popularly known in the country, denied Nasheed’s earlier charge that the Government was practising ‘extremism as a political policy’. Home Minister and religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) leader, Sheikh Imran, endorsed the police findings.

From within the MDP, Mohamed Aslam, who chaired the prestigious ‘241 Committee’ of the Parliament that came up with a report on the security issues flowing from the blast also praised the police work in the blast probe. Another party MP, Rozaina Adam, whose voice is getting increasingly heard on the intra-party conflict, went a step further and described President Solih as a ‘smart, exceptional, and efficient leader in the chaotic political arena’.

ISIS links denied

Nasheed has also claimed Islamic State or ISIS links to those behind the attack on him. However, the nation’s Police Commissioner Mohamed Hameed and his Deputy Mohamed Riyaz have since ruled out ‘formal links’ of the kind. They also found no link to MDP Parliamentarian Ilyas Labeeb’s tip-off to Defence Minister Mariya Didi, two days before the May 6 attack.

Declaring that this was terrorists’ third attempt on Nasheed, the police said that they were ‘willing to risk their lives’. They also claimed to have arrested the main suspects behind the blast and forwarded the case of the four detained soon after the blast, including the two who were present at the site, to the Prosecutor-General’s office for filing the charge sheet before the court.

China/India Out campaigns

Insiders say President Solih is not unlikely to open up after his return from the United Arab Emirates, his second private visit outside the country, in July. Earlier, he visited the neighbouring Sri Lankan capital of Colombo to meet relatives. In between, Maumoon Gayoom, in a TV talk-show, has pointed to his half-brother Abdulla Yameen’s eligibility to contest elections if the Supreme Court acquitted him in the multi-million ‘forex scam’ case.

Resting all hopes on the possibilities highlighted by the feud within the majority MDP, the former Defence Minister, Col Mohamed Nazim (retd), who has since floated the Maldives National Party (MNP) in the company of former Police Chief, Abdulla Riaz, has formally announced their decision to contest the Presidential polls of 2023. Indicating the party’s foreign and security policy orientation, Nazim said that ‘no foreign military presence’ would be allowed, if voted to power.

Nazim’s declaration has the potential to be directed at India—and also the United States, with which the Solih government signed a ‘Framework Agreement’ on defence cooperation in September 2020. However, the increasing feud within the ruling MDP seems to be slowly taking domestic political focus away from foreign policy issues.

This much became evident after Nasheed reiterated that China was yet to ‘restructure credit’. There is now an increasing feeling that Nasheed only began using China as a weapon in his political armoury to target the erstwhile Yameen leadership in its time and the Solih presidency since. This sentiment is slowly but surely expanding to cloud the original ‘India Out’ campaign, identified separately with Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine and religious conservative groups.

Not many were, thus, aware of a so-called ‘China Out’ campaign, launched by a few youths, protesting against President Solih calling counterpart Xi Jinping, promising to reinvigorate the bilateral agreements signed during the Yameen time. The protest outside the Chinese Embassy became known, if at all, only after Parliamentarian Hussain Shaheem ‘Andhun’ denied that he was behind it.

Coincidently, Solih’s call to Xi followed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to the former. In his subsequent national address on the 56th Independence Day, President Solih took the middle-path as always. He reiterated his call that ‘strengthening friendly relations and multilateral ties with the global community is vital to the sustenance of the nation’s independence’, indicating his response to the two extreme, nations-based views on foreign and security policy.

- Observer Research Foundation


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