Maldives has been ravaged by a fresh political crisis as the executive clashed head on with the judiciary. Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed in the biggest blow to incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's government to date.
After his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, the president late Monday played his final hand by declaring a 15 day state of emergency. The constitutional rights suspended by president Yameen has effectively quashed any moves by the opposition to impeach him while also stripping the Supreme Court of any authority. Since the declaration the security forces has purged the opposition and the judiciary with a series of high profile arrests.
Political analysts would say the crisis was coming. As his five year term in office draws to a close, the once powerful president has squandered his absolute majority and support. He has alienated every political ally and rival to ultimately force them into an alliance.
But the local political landscape aside, president Yameen has also managed to estrange once close international partners. Yameen had made a resounding statement early in his term. His government would look to the east for a progressive partnership. The statement though veiled, was clear enough. Maldives was replacing or the at the very least distancing India as its 'closest ally.' China’s forays into Maldives, located in India’s backyard in the Indian Ocean, has already sparked concerns in New Delhi. To rub salt on Indian wounds, Maldives hastily signed a free trade agreement with its fierce rivals China late last year. The agreement comes in the backdrop of Yameen's visit to Beijing in December. This will be a reciprocal visit after the first-ever visit by Chinese president Xi Jinping to Maldives in September 2014.
On the sidelines of the FTA agreement, president Yameen also pledged support for China’s 21st century Maritime Silk Road (MSR), which India has already expressed concerns over, especially because of its implications in the region.
To return the favour, China has funded president Yameen's ambitious and quixotic infrastructure plans which included a landmark bridge to connect the capital to the airport island.
However, at the hour of most need for the Maldives president as he clashed head on with the country's judiciary and the now united opposition, China has left its closest ally in the region to fend for itself.
More than four days after the Supreme court ordered the immediate release of as many as nine political prisoners, government has thus far refused to comply.
President Yameen late Monday declared a state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed after the apex court rejected the government's 'legal and judicial' concerns over the order.
Amid the crisis, several countries including India and the US have issued rather mild travel advisories to their respective citizens when visiting the tropical island destination. But as most countries asked their citizens to avoid the capital Male which is where any potential unrest would unfold, China had issued a more damning travel warning, asking its people to avoid the Maldives altogether.
"Chinese citizens who are preparing in the near term to go to the Maldives temporarily not go to the Maldives before the situation on the ground stabilizes," Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesman Geng Shuang was quoted by the Chinese media.
Chinese New Year is the peak season for Chinese tourists to visit and suggested tourists already there pay close attention to the situation, Geng had said.
China remains the largest tourism market for the archipelago and even slightest effect on the tourism industry - the linchpin of the country's economy would be catastrophic to the island nation.
But the gravity of the travel warning appears more ominous for the embattled Maldives president as his closest ally seems to have forsaken him as he battles to see out his five year term in office.