Trouble in Paradise: The State of Emergency in the Maldives

The Maldives inspire images of a pristine beach, clear blue water, and the occasional Instagram model. For the ultra-rich, the Maldives acts as the perfect getaway to relax and unwind without caring about the troubles of the world. Though its tropical, $20,000-a-night hotel rooms may give the illusion that Maldives is heaven on earth, the political situation would prove otherwise. The tensions between the Maldivian President Abdullah Yameen and the Maldives Supreme Court has sparked a 15-day state of emergency that has caught the attention of the international community.  

Last week, the Maldives Supreme Court ordered the release of opposition lawmakers and the reinstallation of oppositions MPs, stating that their trials were politically motivated to keep the opposition out of power. President Yameen refused to recognize the Supreme Court’s orders and called for a 15-day state of emergency, citing that the Supreme Court’s decision was a coup against his government. On Tuesday, the President ordered armed troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed by how they were a part of the decision to release the opposition lawmakers. The former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who sided with the opposition once leaving office, was arrested that same day. The international community continuously urges Yameen to respect the Court’s decision and release the detainees. However, Yameen continues to dispatch soldiers in hopes of consolidating his power over the Maldives.

Maldives’ President Yameen /

Yameen rose to power in 2013, despite the oppositions’ accusations that the election was rigged and has since ruled by eroding democracy. According to the US State Department, “President Yameen has systematically alienated his coalition, jailed or exiled every major opposition political figure, deprived elected members of parliament of their right to represent their voters in the legislature revised laws to erode human rights, and weakened the institutions of government,” demonstrating the Maldivian President’s history of abusing power. Under his watch, the state has experienced high levels of corruption, unfair jailing of the opposition, and waves of radical Islamism. With a history of defiance and corruption, it comes as no surprise that Yameen has decided to reject the set checks and balances of the state to maintain power by weakening the opposition and undermining democracy.  

The international community continuously urges Yameen to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling while some opposition leaders have even asked for him to step down as president. India, the US, and the UK have all called for Yameen to lift the state of the emergency and release the two supreme court judges. The UN goes further and states that Yameen’s state of emergency is undermining the set checks and balances, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calling it an “all-out assault on democracy.” On a regional level, China and India’s proxy war for control over the Indian Ocean has added a new dimension for Maldives’ political problems. Before the state of emergency, China provided the Maldives generous infrastructural loans and owned a clear majority of the country’s debt. Now with the ongoing political unrest, China has stressed a policy of non-interference which is based on the inference that Maldives has the “wisdom and ability” to handle the dwindling political situation. China has adopted the role of Yameen’s closest ally, while the rest of the world sides with the Supreme Court. In contrast, India has sided with the UN, US, and the UK and spoke out against President Yameen. The country has reportedly assembled its special forces, which are ready for deployment. China has reached out to New Delhi in hopes of settling the dispute before India deploys its army, but both countries desire to extend their influence over the weak Maldives.

Tourism in the Maldives /

The state of emergency has affected more than just the Maldivian political arena. With tourism making up more than a quarter of the Maldives’ GDP, the state of emergency threatens the state’s economy. The Maldivian Ministry of Tourism confirmed that all tourism will operate as usual and that Yameen’s state of emergency will not impose any restrictions on travelling to or within the Maldives. Yet, several countries, including the US and China, have advised travelers to postpone vacations or proceed with caution. At the local level, the country’s news outlets, such as the Maldives Independent, have been under attack by the government due to publishing information that was against the state. The citizens are left in the dark and highly advised to “stay safe” while Yameen continues to deploy troops against the Supreme Court.

The Maldivian state of emergency has gained international attention due to President Yameen’s clear disregard for democracy. The upcoming weeks will determine whether democracy, represented by the Maldivian Supreme Court, or autocracy, represented by Yameen, will triumph in the South Pacific country. Whether or not the international community is willing to intervene may be the deciding factor of the Maldives’ political future. For now, Maldives’ image of paradise has been replaced by that of a dying democracy.

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