N Sathiya Moorthy www.orfonline.org 2 May 2017
At a public rally of the ruling PPM faction headed by him, President Abdulla Yameen has offered to take up freedom and electoral rights for rival MDP predecessor Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed with Parliament, if the rest of the Opposition wrote to him. If this sounded as if Yameen was taking a conciliatory first step, it may not be so, considering that he has made similar offers earlier too, and also preceded it this time with the arrest of another Opposition leader Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party (JP).
This is not the first time that Yameen is making such an offer on Nasheed’s freedom and right to contest the presidential polls, when due in November 2018. The last time he made it, it was to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). In 2015, not long after Nasheed’s imprisonment, Yameen also followed up on his offer by facilitating Nasheed’s transfer to ‘house-arrest’, a parole-like quasi-freedom in the likes of ‘island prison’ (as different from prison-island) even under the nation’s new penal code.
Though the MDP wrote as required, and opened up political negotiations with the Government, which again was on offer, nothing came of either. The talks broke down even before they had commenced. The prison authorities cancelled the ‘house-arrest’ alleging falsification of the official records, and Nasheed soon flew out of the country for medical treatment, only to obtain political asylum in the UK.
Legality and reality
In effect, now as earlier, Yameen was only telling the Opposition, and through them the international community, that he was still helpless in the matter and that Parliament is the sole authority. He would not concede still that it was his party or faction, and that his writ alone mattered.
On the earlier occasion, Yameen referred to the constitutional provision, which could at best allow him to grant clemency to Nasheed, but not remove the latter’s electoral disqualification. That could happen only if the Supreme Court reversed Nasheed’s conviction and 13-year-jail term in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. The alternative would be for the People’s Majlis or Parliament to amend the relevant laws, which could still be contested before the nation’s judiciary.
However, if today, Nasheed were to return home without the required legal and/or parliamentary waivers, he could only land up in prison, to complete the ‘uncompleted portion’ of his 13-year jail-term. It would be as good as his serving the same term as he had left the country within the first year of his imprisonment.
More importantly, he would also be hauled up before the courts for jumping jail after completing his medical treatment in the UK, for which alone he had been granted ‘prison leave’, technically. There is yet another case of contempt of court, as he has ignored judicial orders for him to surrender to the prison authorities and take forward the pending Supreme Court appeal on his conviction matter.
On the political front, Yameen may have asked other Opposition leaders to write to him, only to ‘expose’ them one way or the other. Leave aside the possibilities of Yameen, the judiciary and Parliament together or separately facilitating freedom and poll rights for Nasheed, there is the very issue of other Opposition leaders writing to the President in the matter.
Cat and pigeons
Throughout his prison and overseas stay since, Nasheed has repeatedly reiterated that he would return home and contest the 2013 presidential polls. When it still remains a far cry, by asking the leaders of other Opposition parties to write to him on this matter, Yameen may have wanted to set the cat among the pigeons.
It will remain a question as to who among the Opposition parties and their leaders are the pigeon, and who is the cat. The Yameen camp seems to expect that if they were to write to the President on the Nasheed issue, he and his MDP, the single largest party in the country, would take the initiative for JP’s Gasim and PPM faction leader and former President, Maumoon Gayoom, to return and contest the 2013 polls, at least up to the first round.
It is also Yameen’s way of reminding these leaders that he had the support of the MDP and Nasheed to have the election laws and the Constitution amended to fix an upper age-limit of 65 years, for candidates contesting the presidency. Both Gayoom and Yameen are past 65, and in return for their support to facilitate Nasheed’s return to contest the polls, their parties might want the MDP to demand the age-limit law for presidential polls.
The Yameen idea seems wanting to try and split and separate the four-party Opposition, which also included the religion-centric Adhalaath Party (AP), and then talk to the ‘continuing possibilities of political instability’ if they were all to claim to be together one day and keep opposing one another, the very next. His camp also seems hoping to convince the Maldivian voter that the four parties and their leaders had united only to keep him out of power, and put the nation through one more spell of post-democracy political instability that the nation could do without.
Simultaneously, the Government has arrested Gasim, a second time in less than fortnight, for allegedly trying to bribe MPs to vote in favour of the combined Opposition’s failed no-trust motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh. This was after the High Court Bench at Male had freed him over technical infirmities during the first arrest.
Alongside, the office of the Attorney-General has since dropped criminal proceedings against Faaris Maumoon, Gayoom’s elder son and political heir of sorts, for allegedly failing to reimburse the Government on huge sums spend when the father was the nation’s President. The AG’s office has cited laws of limitation for dropping the charges, as the alleged crime had occurred beyond eight years from now, as the maximum time period to proceed against Faaris.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the AG’s decision too can sow seeds of suspicions in the minds of the non-Maumoon camp in the joint Opposition about the latter’s continued commitment to their common cause of wanting to oust Yameen through legal and constitutional means. For Yameen, it also means not wanting to antagonise the traditional ‘Maumoon voters’ more than already, ahead of the 2018 polls.
However, the President’s camp should be concerned about the midnight murder of blogger and political activist Yameen Rasheed, and his family’s demand for involving international investigators in the probe into the killing. As may be recalled, the Government had sought and obtained ready assistance from five different nations to probe the boat-blast targeting President Yameen and First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim, which also led to the arrest and impeachment of Vice-President,
The comparison may sound improper, but the Government now cannot throw out the Rasheed family’s demand, out-of-turn. There could be political substance to the demand now, as the blogger’s killing comes more than a year after the sudden disappearance of journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, working for the popular web-journal, the Maldives Independent, in 2014. The Maldives Police Service (MPS) is yet to make a breakthrough in the investigations. At the time, and later on, too, Rilwan’s family wanted to be made an ‘international probe’, but to no avail.
From a distance, the modus operandi of blogger Rasheed being killed in the stairwell of his apartment building in Male should also bring to mind the midnight massacre of then PPM parliamentarian and religious scholar, Dr Afrashim Ali, when predecessor President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik was in office (2012-13). After purportedly procrastinating on the probe, the police had reported pointed an accusing finger at some of MDP leader. However, nothing much came out of that investigation, either, beyond a point.