President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives resigned on Tuesday after weeks of protests erupted into a police mutiny, leaving the man — widely credited with bringing democracy to the paradise islands — accused of being as dictatorial as his predecessor.
Nasheed handed power over the Indian Ocean archipelago to Vice-President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, explaining that continuing in office would result in his having to use force against the people.
“I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule with the use of power,” he said in a televised address. “I believe that if the government were to remain in power it would require the use of force which would harm many citizens.”
In the morning, soldiers fired teargas at police and demonstrators who besieged the Maldives National Defence Force headquarters in Republic Square.
Later in the day, scores of demonstrators stood outside the nearby president’s office chanting “Gayoom! Gayoom!”, referring to Nasheed’s predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed swept to victory in 2008, pledging to bring full democracy to the luxury holiday resort nation and speaking out passionately on the dangers of climate change to the low-lying islands.
But he drew opposition fire for his arrest of a judge he accused of being in the pocket of Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years.
Acting like a dictator
Protests at the arrest set off a constitutional crisis that had Nasheed in the unaccustomed position of defending himself against accusations of acting like a dictator.
Overnight, vandals attacked the lobby of the opposition-linked VTV TV station, witnesses said, while mutinying police attacked and burnt the main rallying point of Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party before later taking over the state broadcaster MNBC and renaming it TV Maldives.
Gayoom’s opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives accused the military of firing rubber bullets at protesters and a party spokesperson, Mohamed Hussain “Mundhu” Shareef, said “loads of people” were injured. He gave no specifics.
An official close to the president denied the government had used rubber bullets but confirmed that about three dozen police officers defied orders overnight and attacked a ruling party facility.
“This follows Gayoom’s party calling for the overthrow of the Maldives’ first democratically elected government and for citizens to launch jihad against the president,” said the official who declined to be identified.
The protests, and the scramble for position ahead of next year’s presidential election, have seen parties adopting hard-line Islamist rhetoric and accusing Nasheed of being anti-Islamic.
The trouble has also shown the long-standing rivalry between Gayoom and Nasheed, who was jailed in all for six years after being arrested 27 times by Gayoom’s government while agitating for democracy.
The vice-president is expected to run a national unity government until next year’s presidential election.
The trouble has been largely invisible to the 900 000 or so well-heeled tourists who come every year to visit desert islands swathed in aquamarine seas, ringed by white-sand beaches.
Most tourists are whisked straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, a fully Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon.
Nasheed was famous for his pleas for help to stop the sea engulfing his nation and in 2009 even held a Cabinet meeting underwater, ministers all wearing scuba gear, to publicise the problem.
An Asian diplomat serving in Male told Reuters on condition of anonymity: “No one remembers the underwater cabinet meeting. They remember Judge Abdulla Mohamed,” a reference to Nasheed having the military arrest the judge accused of being in Gayoom’s pocket.
Meanwhile, Twitter user Alexander Brown said he was in the Maldives enjoying life.
“Maldives government overthrowing (sic) and im watching a Vogue photo shoot infront of me on Four Seasons … very strange world.” — Reuters