From 'prince' to 'pauper': Maldives pres' mighty political fall

One would be hard-pressed to describe incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom as a 'people' person. Yameen hardly smiles, is media shy and his public appearances are few and far between. He can be best described as the alter ego of Mohamed Nasheed - a human rights activist turned politician who ended the decade rule of strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom - half brother of Yameen.

In 2013, despite huge popularity, Nasheed narrowly lost a chaotic and marathon presidential election to Yameen. For many, it seemed Yameen would be the ideal leader to navigate the tropical tourism destination from a period of unprecedented political strife after Nasheed was prematurely ousted in what he still claims to be a coup. There was merit to such reasoning. Yameen had served in his brother's cabinet for years before his long stint as a lawmaker. Unlike Nasheed, Yameen certainly had the experience and had a better understanding of the inner workings of running a government. Despite his rather intimidating demeanor, even his fiercest critic would be resigned to admit that Yameen was more a politician than Nasheed. Political analysts would concur that Yameen's biggest victory transpired the year after when he backed by the coalition won majority seats in parliament.

With Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) deflated the parliament victory had ensured that there was no resistance left for president Yameen. He had the rest of the political parties and leaders including business tycoon and Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla in his corner. No 'un-Islamic' label to shake-off. He could count on the wise counsel of his half brother. His government had the backing of the judiciary and the support of the security forces. Yameen had it all. It certainly appeared too good to be true.

Yameen gets rid off his first deputy

During the 2013 elections, Yameen needed the outspoken but popular Mohamed Jameel Ahmed to get his message and sell his ambitious manifesto to the people. The former justice minister duly delivered as he almost single handedly carried the entire presidential campaign as Yameen's running mate. But once the election was over Yameen had no use of a deputy harbouring his own political ambitions. Yameen's close aide and tourism minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gayoom may have engineered the censure motion in order to pave his meteoric ascent to VP. But it's difficult to fathom that Adheeb could, or would have pulled off a move of such magnitude without the blessing of Yameen.

Coalition breakup

Similar to what the country witnessed in 2008, it did not take long for Yameen to alienate his coalition partners. The 'kingmaker' Gasim who had tilted the presidency in Yameen's favour was the first to go, closely followed by Sheikh Imran and his Adhaalath Party (AP).

Adheeb 'back-stabs' Yameen

It was nearly a tragedy but it was more ironic. Long before and definitely after Adheeb was named as the new VP, he enjoyed 'celebrity' status. His popularity and influence grew exponentially. Adheeb was Yameen's go to man. But ultimately, Yameen got 'bitten' by the very force he bred. Adheeb had outgrown his ever burgeoning ambition. Adheeb had allegedly orchestrated a blast aboard the presidential speedboat that nearly killed Yameen and his spouse. The incident later uncovered the largest corruption scandal in the archipelago's history. Adheeb had embezzled millions from the state coffers. The scandal left Yameen red-faced and fending off accusations of his own involvement. Adheeb paid the price as he was jailed for 33 years on multiple counts of terrorism and corruption.

Political jailings

Even at the beginning of his tenure, it was clear that Yameen wanted a second term in office. So as the first step to make his ambition a reality, Yameen purged the playing field, jailing his potential rivals one at a time on more than contentious charges. The long list of his high-profile victims included Nasheed, Imran and his defence minister Mohamed Nazim while others fled into exile in fear of persecution.

The Gayoom clash

Into his fourth year as president, Yameen had rolled back many of the democratic gains seen in the archipelago since 2008, with all of his potential political opponents either jailed or in exile. His government has also curbed freedom of speech and assembly, with heavy fines imposed on journalists and social media users found guilty of defamation. But his biggest move which arguably has marked the beginning of the end for him was when he had an ugly falling out with his half brother. The elder Gayoom was unceremoniously deposed from the very party he founded as Yameen seized control of the ruling party on the back of a court ruling.

Birth of an unholy alliance

Yameen had backed all his political rivals into a corner. He had managed to alienate almost every one of his political allies. In the face of oblivion, the opposition led by Gayoom and Nasheed, Gasim and Imran inked a once unthinkable pact to form what they called a 'reform alliance'.

Parliament revolt

The flailing opposition buoyed by the once unspeakable alliance injected a fresh impetus to its efforts against Yameen and his government. The alliance targeted the easily swayed lawmakers, convincing as many as a dozen government MPs to join their cause. Yameen had lost the majority which he enjoyed and exploited to the full - getting it to rubber stamp more than controversial legislation. It was a major blow for him and as the opposition moved to unseat the speaker, Yameen foresaw a possible impeachment move. In a bid to quell the revolt, Yameen used his influence in the judiciary to get the Supreme Court to issue an anti-defection ruling which disqualified the 12 lawmakers.

Judiciary gains 'independence'

Yameen had definitely profited from his rather taboo 'influence' over the judiciary. Arrest and search warrants were issued at whim. His prosecutors were quite efficient in charging his rivals on trumped up charges as the courts put away his rivals clearing the path for his re-election next year. But the Supreme Court late Thursday delivered the biggest blow for Yameen's government after it ordered relevant authorities to release all political prisoners including Nasheed.

In its ruling on Thursday evening, the supreme court said the criminal proceedings against Nasheed and eight others had been “conducted based on political motivations; and in violation of the constitution and the international human rights covenants acceded to by the Maldives”. It ordered their immediate release pending a retrial.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the order included Gasim, Imran Nazim, Adheeb and his lawmaker nephew Faris Maumoon. The court had also annulled the ruling against “floor-crossing” which means the reinstatement of the 12 rebels MPs - effectively giving the parliament majority backed to the united opposition.

Military, police support remain?

More than three days after the landmark ruling, Yameen has stalled on releasing his rivals. He appeared to have been attempting to quell the uprising by getting his prosecutors to submit "legal and judicial" concerns over the ruling. However, the Supreme Court on Sunday quashed his last attempt by rejecting the so called concerns by saying that there was nothing obstructing the relevant authorities from enforcing the order. It means that Yameen and his aides have now run out excuses. He has also been trying to portray a "show of force" by getting his military and police chiefs to pledge allegiance to him. They have also vowed to quash any move to impeach him.

The apparent support of the security forces is definitely the last straw for the once powerful leader as desperately clings to power in face of mounting opposition and international pressure. Yameen certainly once had everything a president could ask for. How he has managed to squander such undisputed power remains quite remarkable. Yameen had harbored desire to serve for a second term in office. But as things stand, it would be a miracle if he even survives his first.