The opposition led by self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed have long bemoaned the lack of judicial independence in the Maldives. On the other side of the fence, his rivals and incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had long paraded the excellence of a fair and independent judiciary. Such stark contrast may seem surprising for an outsider looking in, but for anyone remotely familiar with the turbulent Maldives politics it would appear less so. Because in Maldives, judicial independence is gauged simply by the side you are on.
On February 1, 2018 the tables suddenly turned when the country's apex court ordered the release of jailed political leaders much to the dismay of president Yameen. The shoe was immediately on the other foot. The events that have followed clearly lays bare that for Maldives politicians, independence has the same meaning as control. In Maldives, to go from villain to hero takes only a split second. Merely swapping sides can absolve all your "sins". The two Supreme Court judges - charged for the alleged coup plot, once 'poster boys' for the country's 'corrupt' and compromised judiciary are now paragons of justice for the opposition.
This irrefutable fact has been glaringly underscored by the recent leak of several statements given to the police by some of our honorable judges, literally blowing the lid off the rot in our justice system.
The testimonies leaked on social media on Wednesday included several from lower court judges saying how the now jailed chief justice Abdulla Saeed and judge Ali Hameed had influenced their rulings. The leaked documents also included testimonies from top police officials and the intelligence report following the February 1 court order.
The judges had admitted to having changed their rulings "to ones president Yameen wanted" on orders of one of the two top court judges. These included several high-profile civil and criminal lawsuits where most of them undoubtedly were against the opposition. Everyone expected an opposition storm of condemnation and outrage. Especially at such a crucial juncture in Maldives politics with presidential elections around the corner. Calls for mass re-trials, resignations and investigations on a national scale were supposed to echo throughout the archipelago.
However, no one should underestimate the uncanny ability of our politicians to disappoint. There has not been a peep from the opposition camp. The endless barrage of Tweets, statements and press conferences that were expected never came. Even the outspoken Nasheed who has had a 'twitchy Twitter finger' since his exile, has sidestepped the whole scandal. What should be hailed and celebrated as a major triumph for Nasheed and his ilk has been strangely been met by an eerie hush.
In every sense of the expression, the silence has truly been deafening but has deeper and more sinister reasons. The truth is the opposition cannot berate the jailed judges. The opposition needs them exactly like president Yameen did before February 1. When and if they get power, the judges would be paraded like national heroes. The faces of the opposition victory over 'tyranny and oppression'.
Because in Maldives politics, judicial independence alternatively translates to holding the marionette that controls the entire judiciary. It remains the most powerful political weapon in the country. The one who wields it can lay waste to political rivals, secure or destroy futures and simply force any opponent into submission. Its purely the reason why the judiciary would never be independent or impartial. Because no one with the authority to do so will. No one would relinquish such power. Simply because, when and if they get a hold of the 'marionette', the sides would change and the same game would begin all over again.