Maldives asks for UN help in constitutional crisis
COLOMBO, Jan 22 — The Maldives asked the United Nations today to mediate in a standoff with the opposition over the arrest of a criminal court judge, which has prompted accusations that President Mohamed Nasheed's government has subverted democracy.
The military's arrest six days ago of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed for corruption set off low-level nightly protests by the opposition coalition allied with Nasheed's predecessor and archrival, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed, a former human rights and democracy campaigner, ended Gayoom's 30-year reign and ushered in a constitutional reform agenda after winning a 2008 election. It was the first multi-party democratic poll in the history of the former island sultanate, located off India's southern tip.
One of Nasheed's main challenges has been in implementing reforms with Gayoom's allies populating the judiciary and other institutions.
Today, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem wrote to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights asking for a team of senior foreign jurists to mediate. The United Nations in the Maldives had no immediate comment.
Naseem said the fact the judicial commission had failed to investigate the judge, and others, for more than a year showed cracks in the constitution's checks and balances.
"This system failure led directly to the president's decision, as the ultimate guarantor of the constitution and of rule of law in the Maldives, to detain Justice Abdulla Mohamed," the letter said.
The opposition protests by roughly 300 people have resulted in minor violence and scores of arrests, and follow a series of similar tussles over the past year which have begun to feature hardline Islamic rhetoric.
The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) opposition coalition accused the president of undermining the very reforms for which he had fought.
"We believe Nasheed is repeatedly violating the constitution in both letter and spirit. The reform agenda is in a serious threat of derailment," a PPM spokesman said by telephone from Male, the Maldivian capital.
The Maldives is home to 330,000 Sunni Muslims and extremism has rarely figured in its past, but religious pressure earlier this month forced the government to briefly ban spas and massage parlours at the luxury resorts for which the islands are famed.
The EU heads of mission in Sri Lanka, who are also accredited to the Maldives, in a statement late yesterday urged both sides to tone down inflammatory talk and respect the constitution, judicial independence and the rule of law. — Reuters