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Maldives: President Yameen: Problems being faced in settling down

Paper No. 5627                                      Dated 1-Jan-2014
 
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
 
In settling down, it was expected that President Yameen would face many challenges.  For him the first and foremost would be to get along with other coalition partners, particularly with the Jumhooree party but for whose support he would not be in the Presidential chair.  
 
The second would be the dire economic situation where the country is spending more than what it should and where cost cutting measures have become an urgent necessity.  Third, would be the course correction needed in the relations with India that has been considerably damaged during Waheed’s regime.
 
The Judiciary needs a “clean up”:
 
With all these, one that is hardly mentioned but one that needs immediate attention will be the reform and reorganisation of the judiciary which in my view is the weakest link in Maldives in its march towards democracy.
 
In an earlier paper 5509 of 14th June 2013, I had mentioned that the judiciary needs a thorough “clean up.”  Since then in the presidential elections, the Supreme Court over reached itself and started interfering with the constitutional powers given to other constitutional appointees like the Election Commission.  The Supreme Court suo motu issued instructions on how the elections are to be conducted in its minutest detail! We saw the full bench of the Supreme Court meeting in the night to issue executive directions to the Police and others to prevent the elections from taking place!
 
The latest spat between the Supreme Court and the Executive came to the fore when the Judicial council transferred ten of the judges from their present positions to other posts and this involved no loss of pay or rank.  This included the transfer of the famous [sic] Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed as chief judge of Drugs court, from his present position.  It may be recalled that judge Abdulla was briefly detained by the military on the orders of the former President Nasheed for unduly favouring the accused in many cases.
 
When the transfers were made, the Chief Justice wrote to the President on the illegality of transfer by the Judicial council in the absence of formal consultations with the Supreme Court.  Since it was just an opinion, the government went along with the transfers.  Stung by the action of the government in ignoring the letter, the Supreme Court has issued a “mandamus order” unilaterally halting the judicial oversight body’s decision to shuffle the Superior court judges.  As it is a judicial order the government will have to obey.  One of the members Hamza of the JSC termed the order as one “undermining the powers vested in the JSC according to the constitution.”  Another member termed the order as “irrational”. If they say anything more on the order, I am sure the Supreme Court will issue contempt proceedings!
 
It may be recalled that sex tapes involving one of the Supreme Court judges, Ali Hameed, had been in circulation for quite some time.  The judicial council finally took cognizance of the tapes and had recommended suspension of the judge.  One of the reasons given for the suspension was because of the Judge’s unwillingness to cooperate with the investigation of the case. It is hoped that the Supreme Court does not interfere with the recommendation of the Judicial council!
 
How long will Yameen and Gasim Cohabit?
 
We had always considered the relationship between President Yameen and the coalition partner Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree party as fragile and may not continue for long.  It is suspected that Gasim supported Yameen in the runoff to the elections more due to the personal persuasion of former President Gayoom who actively supported his half brother Yameen in the latter’s quest for presidentship. Differences between Yameen and Gasim have already started surfacing and the latest related to the current budget.  
 
Gasim is not only a coalition member but is also the chairman of the parliamentary committee tasked with the budget review and yet was not consulted nor was he given an opportunity to offer suggestions.  Gasim was justifiably upset.
 
In a kind of an indirect response, Yameen declared that “ coalition members must not view the alliance as an opportunity to guarantee themselves what they want from within the government nor should it be seen as a chance to bring out whatever number of candidates they wish to compete in an election.”  The latter portion is perhaps a reference to the coming elections to 85 seat Majlis in May where the two are supposed to jointly contest the elections against the MDP.  To me it appears that Gasim will continue with the alliance so long as it suits his business interests but at some time or other, the relationship could break. Of the two, Yameen with the support of his step brother Gayoom, is in a better position to outwit Gasim.
 
The need for austerity measures:
,
One major concern of the present government appears to be  the  current economic situation.  The World Bank’s recent  update on Maldives Development mentioned specifically that Maldives is spending “beyond its means.”  Yameen is desperately trying to reduce the expenditure.  While he cannot reduce the salaries of the civil servants that takes the bulk of the budget, pay cuts have been introduced in the salaries of State ministers and Deputy Ministers.  What is perplexing is that on one hand as an austerity measure pay cuts are being introduced while at the same time, a large number of people are being appointed as Deputy ministers and advisers that would surely offset any saving one may get out of pay reduction! 
 
An increase in the airport service charges has been made from 18$ to 25 $ and the tourism GST has been increased to 12 percent.  At the same time GST for Maldivian travellers has been reduced.
 
The arbitration case against GMR is not going in Maldives way and the compensation if ordered will be too high for Maldives to pay.  It looks that some behind the scene discussions are taking place.  The GMR chief had declared recently that they are ready to run the international airport at Male “if invited.”!
 
Relationship with India on the “mend”: 
 
One good development has been that the relations with India appear to be on the mend.  The Defence Minister Col. (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim made a successful five day visit to India.  During the visit he met the Defence Minister of India and the National Security Adviser.  Col. Nazim sought help in disaster management, Aviation security and border control.  A second helicopter was gifted to Maldives.  
 
Another concern of Maldives would be the current visa restrictions imposed during Waheed’s regime, particularly on the issue of medical visas.  It was thought that an amicable solution will be found during President Yameen’s visit.
 
President Yameen was to visit India on the 22nd December, but was postponed indefinitely.  There appears to be no reason other than the availability of Indian President who will be away during that time and India wanted to convert the visit as a “state visit.”
 
 The MDP:
 
Not much is being heard about the activities of the MDP, the main opposition.  One issue that came to our notice is that the party’s whip to oppose the appointment of ministers in the cabinet  other than those belonging to the PPM was ignored by many of the MDP members in the Majlis.  This should have shocked the MDP leaders and the need would be to keep the membership of the party intact. There was a rumour in the media and outside that MDP had agreed to support the appointment of all the members of the cabinet in the Majlis in return for dropping the case against Nasheed.  This does not appear to be the case and it was also denied by Nasheed himself.
 
Return of Waheed and Presence of a large number of Illegals:
 
Two other issues that came to our notice was the return of former President Waheed from Singapore after a long absence.  On arriving Waheed said that he would engage himself on social issues.  Subsequently he seems to have changed his mind and joined the PPM as a full-fledged member.  His party the Gaumee Itthihad Party has since been disbanded.  His party GIP had no following even earlier and it was noticed that just to be recognised as a party, they had submitted membership papers in which 80 percent of them were found to be bogus ones!
 
Another the issue that should trouble the current administration is the large number of undocumented illegals in the islands.  It transpires that almost 44000 living in the islands are illegals with no valid documentation.  This figure is disturbingly high for a small country of a little over 300,000 population. ! 
 
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