Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s invitation to a New Delhi conference sponsored by the Indian foreign ministry is a signal of dissatisfaction with the Maldivian government, the exiled opposition leader told the Indian press.
“I’m a convict and I was sentenced to 13 years in jail for terrorism. And yet, I’ve been invited to India. There is a message here, you have to be blind if you don’t see it,” Nasheed was quoted as saying during an interactive session with the media at Brookings India.
“India is the world’s biggest democracy and it is difficult to see it remaining quiet or idle. We have high expectations from India, and I believe India will deliver. In fact, it is delivering.”
Asked about the former president’s remarks, Ahmed Mohamed, the Maldivian ambassador to India, told The Hindu that bilateral relations are not under strain and that both governments are in regular contact.
“The Maldives doesn’t see any signal. Maldivians are free to visit India without a visa, and so he is free to visit here,” he said.
In his first trip to India since his jailing in early 2015, the 50-year-old opposition leader – whose passport was revoked last year after he was granted asylum in the UK – travelled to Delhi last Thursday to attend a seminar organised by a think-tank of the Indian external affairs ministry.
Unlike Western countries, India has remained silent in the face of the worsening political crisis in the Maldives, which deepened last month when the opposition secured the backing of a majority of MPs to impeach the speaker.
Nasheed suggested that India’s foreign policy eschews “reacting” to events in favour of a gradual build-up of diplomatic pressure.
The opposition expects India to push for free and fair presidential elections with political parties able to field the candidates of their choice, Nasheed told the Indian media. At present, both of President Abdulla Yameen’s opponents in the 2013 contest are disqualified from challenging him due to lengthy prison sentences.
Islamic radicalism in the Maldives and growing Chinese influence are not in the interest of Indian Ocean stability, Nasheed added.
He also credited Indian diplomacy with securing his release from prison in January 2016 to seek medical treatment in the UK.
Nasheed was found guilty of ordering the “abduction” of the criminal court’s chief judge and sentenced to 13 years in prison in March 2015.
His jailing after a rushed trial marred by apparent due process violations was ruled illegal and politically motivated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 2015. However, the government rejected the “non-binding opinion” and the supreme court upheld Nasheed’s conviction over the military’s detention of the judge.
Nasheed went on to say that the Yameen administration has been weakened by the collapse of its parliamentary majority. But the opposition would not stage a coup as it was not in the best interest of the country, he said.
The opposition’s strategy is securing support from a two-third majority of parliament to impeach Yameen, he added.
Following the unlikely partnership with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – who he defeated in 2008 to become the country’s first democratically-elected president – Nasheed said the four-party opposition coalition’s new direction is less reliant on street demonstrations and more hopeful towards the country’s nascent institutions.
“The chief justice will now understand that the country is really pulling apart. The parliament is stuck. The Supreme Court is not functioning. So, the main two powers of the state, other than the executive, is now not functioning and that’s certainly not in the interest of anyone,” he told The Wire.
“I think in the new strategies that we are taking on board – because of the experience that we have had – in the last 10-15 years, and also because of our new alliance partners, they are different from what we have done before.”
He also revealed that the joint opposition has picked Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Gayoom’s son MP Faris Maumoon as the new speaker and deputy speaker, respectively.
Nasheed’s media blitz in India meanwhile prompted criticism from government figures. Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, a former chairman of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party who recently joined the ruling party, accused the former president of trying to pull the Maldives into a conflict between India and China.
India will not interfere in domestic affairs of the Maldives, the MP for Hulhu-Henveiru told state media Sunday night.
Appearing on the state broadcaster Wednesday night, Aishath Azima Shukoor, the legal affairs minister at the president’s office, contended that Nasheed’s remarks were “treasonous” as they constituted a threat to the independence and sovereignty of the Maldives.
In an interview with The Hindu on Thursday, Nasheed said it would be “counterproductive” to seek Indian intervention in domestic politics.
“It takes time for democracy to take root. Despite how difficult it is for me personally to continue to live in exile, I would not want anyone to intervene in my country,” he said.