Feb 20th 2016
THE low-lying Maldives may be inundated by a political storm. At the centre stands the archipelago’s president, Abdulla Yameen, scion of a powerful clan. The jailing this week of a former ally, and questions about missing money, are bringing the crisis to a head.
One agent of Mr Yameen’s troubles is Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president, who was ousted in what was in effect a coup in 2012. He then contested (and eventually lost) the last election, before facing overblown charges of terrorism. But foreign pressure recently secured his passage to London for medical treatment. There he has loudly highlighted his country’s democratic shortcomings.
He is supported by a high-profile lawyer, Amal Clooney, who has helped strengthen the backing of Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, for the cause of Maldivian democracy. The islands’ government is furious with Mr Nasheed. Ministers have come to London to prevent the Commonwealth from suspending the Maldives’ membership and to fight off European calls for targeted sanctions unless political prisoners are freed and a deal reached with the opposition.
But the 12-year sentence handed down on February 17th to Imran Abdulla, head of an Islamist party, has undone their work. He also was charged with terrorism for a speech at a rally last May in support of Mr Nasheed—even though he used it to call for calm. Officials more readily rail against Mr Nasheed than explain how $79m disappeared from the state tourism body. Mr Yameen’s former vice-president, Ahmed Adeeb, has been arrested for that, as well as for an explosion on the president’s yacht. But questions remain. It seems improbable; as ministers with a taste for flash watches insist is the case, that Mr Adeeb is the only senior politician to have benefited.
The opposition alleges that Mr Yameen is implicated in the tourism scandal, as well as in an alleged money-laundering scheme involving the central bank. With outside pressure growing, the president, who denies any wrongdoing, has shrinking room for manoeuvre.