Maldives facing ‘national security crisis’ as top court seeks to impeach President Yameen over jailed politicians

Attorney general warns state agencies to disregard the Supreme Court’s ruling to remove the country’s leader

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 2:56pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 10:11pm

The Supreme Court in the Maldives is trying to impeach President Abdulla Yameen, who has not obeyed an order to release opposition leaders arrested after unfair trials, the island nation’s attorney general said on Sunday.

Attorney general Mohamed Anil also asked all national bodies and defence units to disregard any Supreme Court ruling on impeaching Yameen.

“We have received information that things might happen that will lead to a national security crisis,” Anil told reporters in the capital, Male.

“The information says the Supreme Court might issue a ruling to impeach or remove the president from power,” he added.

“State institutions have also received this information. Any institution of the state has no authority to exercise a power not afforded to them under the constitution.

“I have told them that in such a situation, law enforcement agencies should not obey a ruling in contravention of the constitution.”

The Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed cases against nine people, including former president Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader, who now lives in exile in Britain and has been campaigning to have his political rights restored.

In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which can result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president.

Maldives opposition says government is reneging on deal to release eight political prisoners

Political unrest has intensified since the court’s Thursday decision, with thousands taking to the streets demanding the politicians be freed. Protesters late on Friday and early Saturday converged on a prison in the capital, Male, where the politicians are being held, but police forced them to leave.

Anil’s comments came after President Yameen announced on Saturday he is willing to hold an early presidential election to allow voters to decide who they want to lead the Indian Ocean archipelago.

Speaking publicly for the first time since last week’s court decision, he said he was open to holding an election several months before his term ends in November.

The Maldives parliament was set to open for the year on Monday, but that has been indefinitely postponed, said opposition lawmaker Ahmed Mahloof. He said the government’s fear of losing their majority could be the reason for the postponement.

Yameen said he did not expect the court ruling, but that all relevant authorities of the state need to do “a lot of work to see how to implement it”.

“We are working on making sure we can respect the Supreme Court order in a way that doesn’t cause any difficulties to the people,” he said at a rally in his support organised by his party.

Earlier on Saturday, Yameen also fired a national police chief for the second time since the court order. Yameen’s office said he dismissed Ahmed Saudhee and appointed Deputy Police Commissioner Abdulla Nawaz to act as interim police chief. No reason was given for the dismissal.

Maldives’ exiled president Mohamed Nasheed vows return to office as protesters, police clash

Saudhee was appointed interim police chief on Friday, one day after Yameen fired Ahamed Areef, whose dismissal came after the police department announced that it would uphold the Supreme Court’s order. Attorney General Mohamed Anil said Areef was fired because Yameen was repeatedly unable to reach him on the phone.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked the Maldivian government to respect the Supreme Court’s order, joining a similar appeal by the United States.

“The secretary general reiterates his belief in finding a solution to the political stalemate in the Maldives through all-party talks, which the United Nations continues to stand ready to facilitate,” Gutteres’ spokesman said in a statement.

Known for its luxury tourist resorts, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule by the current president’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

But the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions such as the judiciary and the police.

Reporting by Reuters and Associated Press