The United States has expressed concern over the state of democracy in the Maldives after the civil court on Sunday removed former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives.
“US concerned that today’s action against political opponents further imperils Maldivian democracy,” Nisha Biswal, US assistant secretary of state for south and central Asia, said in a rare tweet about Maldivian affairs.
US Ambassador to the Maldives, Atul Keshap, also waded in with a tweet last night, expressing solidarity with Maldivians who value democratic principles.
— Atul Keshap (@USAmbKeshap) October 16, 2016
The PPM descended into civil war yesterday after the court stripped Gayoom of his powers and handed control to President Abdulla Yameen, splitting the ruling party into rival factions led by the estranged half-brothers.
The court’s unprecedented intervention in an internal dispute of a party drew stringent criticism from opposition figures, lawyers, and members of the public on social media.
“We must not allow the courts to meddle with the internal affairs of political parties. The [main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party] will work for the protection of parties,” tweeted former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Court thakun siyaasee party thakuge ethereyge hingumah vannan jaaga dheegen nuvane. MDP masaiykaiy kuranee party thakuge rakkatherikamah.
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) October 16, 2016
Nasheed’s longtime rival concurred.
In a democracy all political parties must be allowed to function freely without hindrance from state or judiciary.
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) October 16, 2016
Prominent lawyers, including former attorneys general, expressed alarm over the precedent set by the civil court judgment.
PPM suffers a judicial coup. Party members must decide who should run the party.
— Husnu Al Suood (@hsuood) October 16, 2016
If we take today’s court ruling as valid, court can appoint Yameen to run Maldives beyond 2018, without need for an election in 2018.
— Husnu Al Suood (@hsuood) October 16, 2016
“It’s hostile 2 a democratic system 2 involve judiciary in politics of the people..dressed up in abstract phrases of the law” Frankfurter,J. https://t.co/amFxZbGHLE
— ahmad ali sawad (@DrSawad) October 16, 2016
Disturbing to see court asked to take place of party members. What next? Cabinet Ministers asking court to grant them President’s powers? pic.twitter.com/YdTEP6CaLi
— Maumoon Hameed (@maanhameed) October 16, 2016
Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain argued that the civil court lacks the jurisdiction to arbitrate “political disputes.”
“The civil court must hear civil cases,” he said.
Siyaasee (political) massalathah belumuge ikhthisaas Civil Courtah libigen nuvey. Civil courtun balan jeheynee madhanee massalathah.
— Ali Hussain (@AleeVoice) October 15, 2016
Biswal meanwhile previously warned that the Maldives is on a “largely negative trajectory” following the widely condemned imprisonment of opposition leaders, which sparked a political crisis that led to “a steady weakening of its fragile democracy and an erosion of the rule of law.”
The jailing of former President Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015 prompted fears of an “authoritarian reversal.”
“Opposition politicians remain behind bars simply because they gave voice to their views, and because the government’s skin is too thin to brook any criticism or competition,” Biswal said in March.
The US concern over the PPM split also followed widespread criticism of Yameen’s recent decision for the Maldives to quit the Commonwealth.
The move came after the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, the organisation’s democracy watchdog, placed the Maldives on its formal agenda in late September.
On Saturday, the Australian government joined the chorus of concern and expressed “disappointment” with the decision.
“Australia believes CMAG and the Commonwealth more broadly have much to offer the Maldives,” said Julie Bishop MP, Australian’s minister for foreign affairs in a statement.
“Australia continues to encourage the Maldives to work with all parties toward a peaceful resolution of its current political circumstances, and urges it to commit to the values enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, free speech and tolerance.”
On Sunday, a group of human rights organisations and activists from South Asia, including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, put out a joint statement condemning the exit as “a smokescreen to prevent further scrutiny and censure and deter the possibility of suspension.”
“By opting out of the Commonwealth, which the Maldives joined voluntarily in 1982, it has demonstrated its determination to stifle democracy and rule through authoritarianism,” reads the statement.
“We are deeply disappointed that the government has chosen to reject the Commonwealth’s technical assistance centered on strengthening democratic institutions and promoting political inclusivity. Walking away from the Commonwealth indicates a refusal to hold to its core standards and poses a serious danger that the Maldivian people may now face greater authoritarianism and impunity.”