‘Dragon’s designs’: China behind crisis in Maldives’ fragile democracy?


A U.N. rights group said on Monday the detention of two Supreme Court judges in the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives was an attack on the independence of the judiciary and undermined the rule of law, Reuters reports:

Regional power India has joined Britain, the United States and the United Nations in calling for the lifting of last week’s state of emergency and the freeing of the two judges.

The Muslim-majority Maldives, best known for its luxury beach resorts, has been in crisis since the Supreme Court quashed convictions ranging from corruption to terrorism of nine opposition figures, and ordered the government to release them. President Abdulla Yameen defied the ruling and the judges were arrested. He said he ordered the state of emergency and put down a coup.

“This direct attack on the Supreme Court undermines its legitimacy and independence, and casts serious doubt on its ability to protect constitutional principles and to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the U.N. group said in a statement.

A severe political crisis erupted Feb. 5 when President Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) declared a state of emergency, notes Nayma Qayum, an assistant professor and chair of the Asian Studies department at Manhattanville College.

As his term comes to a close, Gayoom is cracking down on the opposition, she writes for The Washington Post:

Numerous opposition leaders are in jail and others fear arrest, as he attempts to continue ruling as a strongman, despite court opposition…… China’s implicit support for Gayoom’s regime complicates the situation; the country holds veto power in the Security Council. If Gayoom’s government continues to jail the opposition and control state institutions, free and fair elections remain unlikely.

Gradually by acquiring maritime bases in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and Maldives, China is intending to establish its hegemony in this region and change the strategic balance in its favour, one observer notes.

Human rights and democracy advocates are expressing concern over the detention of Safaath Ahmed Zahir, a leading women’s rights activist in the Maldives. The founder of Women and Democracy, an NGO formed to help advance workplace gender diversity in workplaces, she was among the inaugural class of UN Young Leaders for Sustainable Development Goals and received the Queen’s Young Leaders Award at Buckingham Palace for transforming the lives of others and making a lasting difference in her community.

The April 2014 issue of the National Endowment for Democracy’s Journal of Democracy features a collection of seven essays exploring the Shifting Tides in South Asia in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

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