Chaos in Maldives

Chaos in Maldives

Rioting has erupted in the tiny Indian Ocean island nation after a confusing sequence of events that saw President Mohamed Nasheed resign, then claim a day later that he had been forced from office. Police have now issued a warrant for Nasheed’s arrest:

Nasheed had announced he was voluntarily resigning Tuesday after months of protests against his rule and fading support from the police and the army. But the next day, as former Vice President Mohammed Waheed Hassan was forming a new government, Nasheed suddenly announced he had actually been pushed from power at gunpoint.

Thousands of his supporters swept into the streets. They clashed with security forces in Male, the capital, and attacked police stations in remote parts of this 1,200-island archipelago nation off southern India. The new government insists there was no coup.

The dispute threatens the crucial tourism industry of this mostly Muslim nation of 300,000 people, which relies on dozens of high-end resorts that cater to the rich and famous. The developments also raise questions about the future of a democracy that only shed a 30-year, one-man rule with the 2008 multiparty elections that brought Nasheed to power.

Nasheed first came to prominence as a human rights campaigner under the rule of the Maldives former leader, the dictatorial Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He’s best known internationally for his environmental activism, particularly his well-publicized stunt of holding a cabinet meeting underwater to raise awareness of the dangers rising sea levels pose to small island nations like the Maldives. But it’s been a rough year for his presidency: 

Over the past year, Nasheed was battered by protests over soaring prices and demands for more religiously conservative policies. Last month, Nasheed’s government arrested the nation’s top criminal court judge for freeing a government critic and refused to release him as protests grew.

Nasheed’s supporters have blamed both military factions tied to Gayoom and Islamist extremists for his ouster. The departed president now believes he will soon be arrested, as he was 27 times under Gayoom’s rule. 

Coups are an increasingly rare phenomenon in global politics, and when they do occur, those who take power have been increasingly willing to give it up — thanks largely to changing international attitudes toward coups in the post-Cold War era. This case is complicated by the fact that it initially appeared that Nasheed had left voluntarily, and even now the facts aren’t quite clear. Initially, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon appeared to give tacit approval to the transfer of power, but that could change if it appears that Nasheed was, in fact, forced from power.      

Nasheed was interviewed by FP‘s Charles Homans about his environmental activism in Dec. 2010.