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News Analysis: Political infighting in Maldives could lead to constitutional crisis

English.news.cn   2013-10-26 11:20:08            

by Uditha Jayasinghe

COLOMBO, Oct. 26 (Xinhua) -- Political infighting has brought the idyllic Maldives islands into a tenuous state with barely two weeks to elect a new president and avoid a constitutional crisis but there is little sign that the various parties will reach a compromise.

Tangles of the Maldivian political system have already derailed two attempts to have presidential elections with the third scheduled on Nov. 9 but front-runner former Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed has already said that he has no faith in the process.

If a new president is not sworn in by Nov. 11 as specified in the Maldives Constitution, it will lead to a void where the Speaker of Parliament will take over and oversee the transition of power.

However, this process is dependent on the Supreme Court, which is largely seen as lacking independence, and could issue contrary orders.

Nasheed remains the first democratically elected president of the Maldives after he won over longtime leader Abdul Gayoom in 2008. Gayoom has been accused of being autocratic during his three decades rule.

However, he still has strong connections, especially in the judiciary and remains influential within top officials of the government.

Gayoom is also considered to be a strong backer of current President Mohammad Waheed, who came into power in February 2012 after ousting Nasheed in what the latter alleged as a coup.

A firm favorite with the people, Nasheed bagged 45.45 percent of the vote during a previous election held on Sept. 7, but this was later annulled by the Supreme Court. His party, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), has a majority of seats in Parliament.

A second attempt to hold an election last Oct. 19 was called off just hours before voting was to begin after police intervened and refused to release ballot papers and boxes from the Elections Commission.

This prompted Nasheed to demand the resignation of President Waheed and for the appointment of the Speaker, who belongs to the MDP, to monitor the elections.

"Basically I'm calling for his (Waheed's) resignation and for him to face justice. I would hope that the international community would understand this and I also do hope that the Maldives military and police understand what I am talking about. I'm still hoping that Dr. Waheed will gracefully resign," Nasheed told reporters.

Nasheed said that after his resignation, Waheed should be arrested and tried for his involvement in ousting him from power through a coup and for thwarting elections laid out in the Constitution.

Nasheed claimed that Waheed has gotten away with a coup, nullified a fresh round of elections and obstructed a very peaceful second round of elections by the Elections Commissioner and obstructed another election on Oct. 19.

Waheed has withdrawn from the presidential race and has insisted he would resign by Nov. 11 deadline and hand over power to the Speaker a move that other presidential candidates are wary of.

Tycoon Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party (JP), considered the richest man in the Maldives, came a close third in the first round of voting, just behind Gayoom's half-brother MP Abdulla Yamin of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

With the standoff over elections threatening to spill over beyond Nov. 11, there is also a string of cases being lodged at the Supreme Court against MDP lawmakers.

Two MPs supportive of Nasheed were stripped of their MP positions on Thursday with the Opposition party warning of a " purge" ahead of presidential elections and a possible takeover by parliament.

The Supreme Court case on the two MPs was filed in November 2012 by Mohamed Haleem, a member of Gasim's legal committee. The last hearing of the case took place almost a year ago but was suddenly galvanized with verdicts being issued without the accused even being present in court.

The Supreme Court verdict comes days before voting on a no- confidence motion against Attorney General Azima Shukoor scheduled for Oct. 28.

Moreover, an MDP-sponsored bill on transitional arrangements that require President Waheed to step down if an election is not held by Nov. 10 was also submitted on Thursday.

The Supreme Court also issued an arrest warrant against a third MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor who local media reported, has refused to leave the parliament building.

MDP released a statement on MPs being "purged" as it condemned the continued "harassment and intimidation" of its members through "politically-motivated" court cases.

Analysts said pronged political wrangling in the Maldives could impact on the lucrative tourism industry in the Indian Ocean group of islands.

Nearly a quarter of tourists come visiting the islands from China and with 70 percent of GDP stemming from this source, it is crucial that the industry remains unaffected. But protests over the messy elections have already hampered life in the capital city Male and threatens the sun-dappled serenity of other islands as well.

Instability in the Maldives is a security threat for the entire Indian Ocean which could only be resolved with increased engagement from the international community, including India, the United States, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, analysts said.

Editor: Hou Qiang
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