A honeymoon destination known for its azure seas, pristine beaches and romantic over-water bungalows is in disarray as the government locks up the president’s opponents, defies the orders of its supreme court and suspends its constitution.
How did the Maldives, an archipelago made up of more than 1000 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, unravel?
It starts with allegations of corruption
Political opponents of President Abdulla Yameen petitioned the supreme court on January 29 to investigate allegations of corruption and human rights abuses and to remove him temporarily from power. Opposition leaders accused Yameen, elected in 2013, of stealing more than US$1 million ($1.37 million) of state funds, including tourism revenue. Yameen denied the allegations.
Add to the roiling pot a family feud. Yameen, 58, is the estranged half-brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 80, who sided with the opposition and was arrested a week later.
A few days later, the supreme court threw out the convictions of nine of Yameen’s political opponents and the terrorism conviction of another former president, Mohamed Nasheed, further threatening Yameen’s hold on power.
Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, wife of actor George Clooney, went to bat for Nasheed in 2016, lobbying in London, UK for him to be freed from jail and in Washington DC, US for sanctions against the Maldives.
Nasheed said in a recent statement that Yameen “has illegally declared martial law and overrun the state. We must remove him from power”. He asked India to send in its military to oust Yameen.
The president fights back
Up for re-election this year, he issued a 15-day state of emergency.
This month, Yameen started arresting supreme court justices, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. Yameen’s actions prompted an international outcry.
The United States expressed its disappointment. On February 6, the State Department issued a statement that Yameen “has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected Members of Parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature, revised laws to erode human rights, especially freedom of expression, and weakened the institutions of government”.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ top human rights official, said Yameen’s actions are “tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy”. He called on the Maldivian government to lift the state of emergency.
On February 20, the country’s parliament approved a 30-day extension of the state of emergency, citing a national security threat and constitutional crisis. The opposition boycotted the vote and the Maldivian prosecutor general declared the extension unconstitutional, Reuters reported.
The honeymoon’s over
After Yameen arrested his judges, the US State Department decided the Maldives isn’t the best bet for sun and surf. It issued a travel advisory calling on visitors to exercise greater caution “due to terrorism and civil unrest”.
In 2016, nearly 1.3 million tourists visited the Maldives. The government said tourism and hospitality account for 23 per cent of the archipelago’s GDP and make up a third of the government’s revenue.
The Maldives is so popular that even the royal couple, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, spent a few romantic days there before their tour of New Zealand and Australia in 2014.
Hundreds of hotel bookings have been cancelled every day since the state of emergency began. The government still says come on over, the water’s fine at the resorts away from the capital, Malé, Reuters reported.
What happens next?
The country’s electoral commission said the first round of presidential elections will be held in early September. The second round, if needed, would be held within 21 days of the election, according to the Maldives independent.
– USA Today
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