New Delhi: Even as India inquired from the Maldives about plans for lifting the state of emergency, the Maldivian ambassador to India said his government intends to end the current state as scheduled on February 20, once the “judicial deadlock” is resolved.
His Indian counterpart in Maldives had on Thursday (February 15) asked the Maldivian foreign secretary whether the emergency would end as declared within 15 days.
“The state of emergency will come to an end, when the judicial deadlock is resolved. Government is hoping that within the 15 days – still five days remaining – the government will be able to get out of the messy situation,” Ambassador Ahmed Mohamed told The Wire on Thursday evening.
Just a few hours before speaking to The Wire in New Delhi, India’s ambassador to the Maldives, Akhilesh Mishra, had met with the Maldivian foreign secretary Ahmed Sareer in Malé. The meeting had apparently been sought by the Indian side.
During the meeting, India had reiterated that it wanted a “return to normalcy” in Maldives – a direct reference to the lifting of the emergency in the Indian ocean island nation.
Indian Ambassador Akhilesh Mishra (@AkhileshIFS) calls on Foreign Secretary @AhmedSareer and reiterates the commitment to further strengthen relations between the Maldives and India. pic.twitter.com/HfjkJD0fk5
— MFA Maldives (@MDVForeign) February 15, 2018
This was also reiterated by the Indian foreign ministry spokesperson in Delhi on Friday evening. “You are aware that we have called on government of Maldives for the lifting of state of emergency and restoring the democratic process, including the functioning of judiciary which is free of intimidation,” said MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar.
He added that India was monitoring the Maldivian government’s decision on lifting of the emergency as scheduled. “We have noticed that the emergency which has been declared in Maldives, is valid for next few days. We will wait to see the steps which will be taken by the government of Maldives after this,”.
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen had announced a state of emergency on February 5 for a period of 15 days. According to the Maldivian constitution, if the Majlis (parliament) is not in session when emergency is declared by president, it has to be recalled within 14 days and a proclamation submitted for approval.
According to the current schedule, the emergency declaration will lapse on February 20, unless extended by parliament.
Emergency was announced following the ruling of the Supreme Court of February 1, which the government claimed had led the country to spiral into a constitutional crisis.
The Supreme Court order said that Judicial Services Commission (JSC) could not initiate any probe or sanction members of the Maldives’ apex judiciary organ. It also ordered the release of nine political prisoners and reinstated 12 disqualified parliamentarians. The international community had been worried that the Maldives government’s imprisonment of top opposition leaders would mean that the presidential elections to be held this year would be a one-sided show.
According to Mohamed, the main reason that the February 1 ruling led to the declaration of emergency was that the order contradicted the constitution provisions on the role of the JSC.
“We need to read what the constitution says… Supreme Court overstepped the provision of the constitution on articles 157 and 159 (b),” he said. These two constitutional clauses state that the JSC is responsible to investigate complaints and has jurisdiction over “all members of the judiciary”.
The top Maldivian diplomat to India reiterated the Maldives government’s charges that the two judges had been under investigation from the JSC when they issued the February 1 order. He also claimed that the chief justice had introduced a motion to remove President Yameen. The Maldives government has accused the arrested Supreme Court judges of conspiring to overthrow the government, which was denied by their lawyers.
Following the emergency declaration, the Maldives government had arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his son-in-law Mohamed Nadheem and chief judicial administrator Hassan Saeed Hussain.
Within a day, the truncated three-member Supreme Court issued a new order revoking two provisions in the February 1 ruling, restoring the supremacy of the JSC and keeping the political prisoners in custody.
When pointed out that the Supreme Court’s February 6 order had technically resolved the JSC conundrum and the ‘judicial deadlock’ as articulated by the government, the Maldivian ambassador said that the investigation into the charges of bribery are still ongoing.
“We have found evidence of bribery. I would not be able to say how far and how much suspicion is there on other people…that has surfaced, but clear evidence has to be found. So, probably that’s what is holding it,” said Mohamed. So far, the government has arrested 13 persons.
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To a follow-up question on whether these investigations will be completed within the stipulated period of 15 days, he asserted, “The wish of the government is not to continue this (state of emergency).”
It is still not clear how the Maldives government will be able to extend the state of emergency after 15 days unless the parliament approves it.
Besides inquiring about the state of emergency, Mohamed said that India had also sought clarifications about the support sought from China during the visit of the presidential special envoy.
“The foreign secretary clarified what the discussion was… It was basically the special envoy of the president reaching out to other governments by physically visiting them, telling them what is going on in country, plus assuring that the people and investment of that particular country will be safeguarded by the security forces,” Mohamed said.
In an unusual move, India had reacted to the visit of the Maldivian presidential envoy’s visit to China based on “media reports” that Maldives had sought support from China to maintain security for Chinese investments.
“We have never asked for military intervention from any country,” the Maldivian envoy said.
Maldivian opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed had directly sought a “physical presence” from India to put pressure on President Yameen to abide by the Supreme Court’s order.
Among the major powers, Beijing has warned against any interference in the internal affairs of Maldives. Indian spokesperson claimed that China has repeatedly stated that Indian ocean island nation can fend for itself and there would not be any help from Beijing.
“…if you have been following the comments made by the Chinese spokesperson, he has made it very clear that China is not looking at any intervention and Maldives government is capable of looking after its interest,” MEA spokesperson Kumar told reporters on Friday.
In both of its public statements on the current crisis, India had called upon the Maldives government to “abide” by the Supreme Court ruling. However, it has still not responded publicly to the opposition’s call for “military backing”. Former President Nasheed, who is currently on a visit to India to attend a Bangalore literature festival, had told The Wire that his suggestion for military presence did not mean boots on the ground.
The Maldives government has also repeatedly asked the Indian side to clarify media reports and observations from commentators urging military intervention. But there has been no response, with New Delhi only pointing to its public statements.
On February 13, the Maldivian defence ministry had stated that the Maldives “firmly believes that India would not act on any such calls”. This statement was interpreted as being a warning to India to keep off from taking any steps towards a military intervention in Maldives.
India has floated a proposal for a fact-finding mission by the United Nations, but the suggestion is still moving through the procedural channels of the world body.
Incidentally, President Yameen had told his party members on Thursday night that the Indian army will not “come to Maldives as there is no need for them to be here”. He also described India as Maldives’s “closest ally”, even though the former had “doubts” about the Indian ocean nation.
At the meeting on Thursday, the Maldivian foreign secretary also apparently reminded India that a response was still awaited from the Indian government to provide a “convenient time” for the visit of the presidential envoy.
Maldives had apparently written to the Indian government on February 7 that President Yameen wanted to send a special envoy to Delhi for meetings on February 9.
According to Mohamed, Maldives had written that while it understood that the external affairs minister was away on a visit, the high-level delegation would also be ready to meet with a minister of state or “any appropriate level”. The Maldivian delegation had also sought the opportunity to call on the Indian prime minister.
The delegation, led by Maldivian foreign minister Mohamed Asim, was already on flight from Malé to Abu Dhabi when the Indian side conveyed that the timing was not suitable for the Indian leadership. “We didn’t take it as negatively because meetings happen on mutual convenience,” said Mohamed.
Maldives sent special envoys to China, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
The Maldivian Joint Opposition had on Thursday called on the United Nations to mediate in all-party talks, following the Maldives government’s renewed offer to restart talks with the opposition. The Joint Opposition also asked the UN Secretary General to urge the Maldives government to abide by the February 1 SC order, release arrested persons and resume parliament in order to create an “acceptable environment for dialogue”.
The Maldivian parliament has yet to hold its first sitting in 2018, which according to legal provisions has to be inaugurated by the president. The Majlis was scheduled to open on February 5, but was cancelled due to “security reasons”.
So far, the government has not announced any dates for the opening of parliament. Opposition MPs have attempted to gain access to the parliament compound, but they were physically removed by security officers.
The Supreme Court’s order of February 1 had also reinstated the seats of 12 members of parliament who had defected from the ruling party to the opposition. With the dozen defections, the Maldivian opposition had an effective majority in parliament.
Since the reinstatement of the 12 MPs in February 1 order still stands, Mohamed assured that when parliament re-opens, they would be allowed to take their seats. “I am sure they will be. That is my understanding… There is no contest from the government on that point,” he said.
On Friday evening after prayers, thousands of opposition supporters held protest rallies in Malé and other outlying islands calling for the Supreme Court order to be released. There were, however, reports of police not giving permission for these protests, with pepper spray used on rally participants in the Maldivian capital.
Police has used pepper spray on protesters.#MaldivesCrisis #MaldivesInCrisis pic.twitter.com/bdZeaIqV2z
— Junayd ?? (@mjunayd) February 16, 2018
Protests in Aa.Thoddu#MaldivesCrisis #MaldivesInCrisis https://t.co/5nTnxnFi0i
— Shauna Aminath ? (@anuahsa) February 16, 2018
Note: This article was updated with the MEA spokesperson’s statement.