The arrest of Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb on charges of “high treason” for his alleged role in a failed attempt to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen has further roiled the archipelago’s turbulent and murky politics.
If in the weeks since the abortive assassination, the Maldivian capital, Male, has been rife with rumors of coups, conspiracies and crackdowns, Adeeb’s arrest has fueled unrest and instability.
The attempt on Yameen’s life was made on September 28, when he was returning to the capital, Male, from the airport after a hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. An explosion occurred on board the presidential speedboat as it approached Male. While the President escaped unhurt, his wife and two officials were injured.
Attempted assassinations and coups are not new to the Maldives. In the 1980s for instance, there were at least three attempted coups to oust President Maumoon Gayoom, Yameen’s half-brother, who also faced attempts on his life. Ultimately, it was a democratic election in 2008 that ended Gayoom’s 30-year-long autocratic rule.
The attempt on Yameen’s life has led to a string of arrests. At least a dozen people have been detained so far, several of them in connection with a weapons cache that investigators probing the explosion found on the sea bed near the remote Baa Atoll, 130 km northwest of Male.
The arrest of Adeeb for involvement in a plot to assassinate Yameen has come as a shock to many Maldivians as he is a protégé of the President and was appointed Vice President just three months ago. Popular among Maldivian youth, Adeeb is said to have played an important role in delivering Yameen the votes of young Maldivians in the 2013 presidential election.
Why did they fall out then? Under the Maldivian Constitution, the Vice President takes charge in the event of the death of the President. Was Adeeb’s soaring ambition behind the assassination bid?
Adeeb has denied the allegations leveled against him. Indeed, many Maldivians believe he is being framed. The President’s insecurity over challenges from rivals and potential rivals may be behind Adeeb’s detention, they argue.
Indeed, the Yameen government has systematically marginalized his rivals. Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldives’ first democratically elected president and leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party, who defeated Yameen in the first round of the 2013 presidential election, is in jail, convicted on charges of terrorism over the arrest of a judge when he was in power.
In July, Yameen sacked his vice-president Mohamed Jameel on charges of treason. The two were close allies; Jameel was Yameen’s running mate in the 2013 presidential election. Earlier Defence minister Mohamed Nazim was sacked and sentenced to 11 years in prison for allegedly trying to engineer a coup. Another former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim was convicted on terrorism charges and is serving a 10-year jail sentence.
Curiously, in the immediate aftermath of the explosion, the Maldivian government ruled out an assassination bid and attributed the explosion to a mechanical failure. It was only after investigators from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Sri Lanka ruled out technical problems that the government described it as an attempt on the President’s life.
Two military officials were then taken into custody for allegedly tampering with evidence on the boat. It led to a major shake-up of the military. Defense Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel was fired from his position with immediate effect. Adeeb’s arrest followed.
The international probes into the explosion point in different directions. While those by Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia confirm that the blast was a bid to murder the President, the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said that there is “no conclusive evidence” to link the blast on the boat to a bomb.
The probes raise more questions than they answered.
Few in the Maldives expect the full truth to come out. The Maldivian police force as well as its judiciary is known to be stacked with Gayoom regime appointees. The role they played in Nasheed’s ouster from power in 2012 and his subsequent arrest and conviction is well known. In the circumstances, Adeeb is unlikely to get a fair trial.
Since he assumed the presidency, Yameen has cracked down on dissent and used terrorism charges to marginalize his rivals. Last week, he ratified a highly controversial new anti-terrorism legislation passed by parliament. The law empowers the government to install cameras in the homes of people suspected to be terrorists.
While his government claims that the new law is aimed at tackling the spread of the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the Maldives, it can be expected to be used against pro-democracy activists, opposition leaders and Yameen’s rivals in the ruling party.
Dr. Sudha Ramachandran is an independent journalist/researcher based in Bangalore, India who writes on South Asian political and security issues. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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