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Maldives: democracy, back in transition mode? May 15, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

N. Sathiya Moorthy

With the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, clearing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan’s vice-presidential nominee, Waheed Deen, after the “majority” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) group stayed away, the Indian Ocean archipelago seems to be back in democratic transition, for the second time in three years. A new element has been added this time, with a National Inquiry Commission (NIC) probing the circumstances surrounding the resignation of then MDP President Mohammed Nasheed and his succession by Vice-President Waheed. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has given the Waheed Government four weeks in which to make the probe team credible.

The last time the Maldives went through a similar phase, the nation ushered in multi-party democracy after 30 years of one-person rule under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He was elected for six successive terms of five years each, under a constitutional scheme that provided for only a single candidate in national elections. That is firmly in the past, yet, the Nasheed resignation has left a situation of instability. His subsequent charges of a coup-cum-conspiracy, involving some in the uniformed services and “discredited sections” of the polity, and the fact that fresh presidential polls are still a year or so away, in November 2013, have all given rise to the question of whether democracy is really back in transition mode in the Maldives.

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Maldives: putting democracy back on track February 23, 2012

Posted by southasiamasala in : Future Directions International, Guest authors, Maldives , comments closed

Guest author: N. Sathiya Moorthy

First published in Future Directions International on 15 February 2012

A week after President Mohammed Nasheed resigned, to be succeeded by his Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives is limping back to normality. Hassan is to complete the residual part of Nasheed’s five-year term, ending November 2013. The deep political divisions remain, and the wounds of the previous week’s events have left a bad taste in the mouths of the people at large, and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cadres in particular. All now need to take stock of the recent developments with equanimity and arrive at solutions for the medium- and long-term good of the nation.

Nasheed’s sudden resignation had been preceded by a series of events, not just over the previous weeks, as is often being said now, in a reference to the ‘protect Islam’ call by the ‘December 23 Coalition’ launched by religious NGOs, to which desperate Opposition political groups, whose egos were matched only by the personal ambitions of their leaders, tagged along. It had commenced as early as mid-2010, when the parliamentary polls threw up a minority for the President’s party.

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China-India rivalry in Maldives set to intensify June 12, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, Maldives , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

This article first appeared here in Future Directions International

Background

The 28-31 May visit to Maldives by the most senior Chinese official ever to visit the Islamic archipelago-nation went largely unreported in the Western media. The significance of the visit by Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, underscored the increasing importance of Maldives to China’s regional strategic calculations.

Comment

China and Maldives first established diplomatic relations in 1972. Since then, relations have gradually developed. More recently, Indian policy analysts referred to China’s soft power rise throughout South Asia as a “creeping expansionism”. They went so far as to accuse China of harbouring ambitions to set up a submarine base facility in Maldives.

For instance, in 2005, Indian commentator, A.B. Mahapatra, asserted that:

“China has engineered a manner of a coup by coaxing Maldives’ Abdul Gayoom government to let it establish a base in Marao. Marao is one of the largest of the 1192 coral islands grouped into atolls that comprise Maldives and lies 40 km south of Male, the capital. Scientists warn that global warming is pushing up ocean and sea levels. They fear that most of Maldives will be submerged by year 2040. Marao may be one of the few large islands that may survive. ‘And even if it goes under water’, said a naval official, ‘it will be ideal for submarines.’ In February 2001, a small delegation from Pakistan visited Maldives to boost cultural ties. ‘The Pakistanis put pressure on Male to facilitate Chinese plans for a naval base’, said an official. ‘China used Pakistan to play the Islamic card with Maldives.’ But the Marao base is not expected to be operational until 2010.”

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Power plays in Bhutan exemplify India’s growing influence March 30, 2011

Posted by southasiamasala in : Bhutan, DeSilva-Ranasinghe, Serge, Future Directions International, India, Maldives, South Asia - General , comments closed

Serge DeSilva-Ranasinghe

For nearly a decade the intensifying rivalry between India and China has been seen in practically every country in South Asia. In South Asian countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, India has often encountered hurdles in attempting to expand its influence due to both political and historical reasons. Conversely, and as recently demonstrated in the Maldives, India has also successfully strengthened its influence in a number of smaller regional countries.  For example, in the small Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, India has positioned itself as Thimphu’s  closest ally.

With an estimated 75 per cent of the population Buddhist and 25 per cent Hindu, the people of Bhutan have traditionally shared strong linguistic, religious and cultural similarities to India, Nepal and Tibet . Since British influence was removed from South Asia following Indian Independence, relations with China have grown more complicated, especially since 1950, when China invaded and occupied Tibet resulting in thousands of Tibetan refugees seeking asylum in Bhutan. Later, in 1960, Bhutan decided to close its northern border with China. The border remains closed to this day.

 

Two boys in traditional dress outside the King’s palace, Thimphu, Bhutan.

For decades now Bhutan’s relationship with China has remained underdeveloped and practically stagnant, with no official diplomatic relations. However, some minor successes have been noted, such as when Bhutan voted in favour of China’s UN seat in 1971. Similarly, Bhutan has continued to honour its commitment to the ‘One China’ policy and has also signed the 1998 Agreement on Maintenance of Peace and Tranquillity in the Bhutan-China Border Areas. Nonetheless, these minor achievements have not necessarily translated into better relations. For example, trade relations have remained at minimal levels and equated to around US$1 million in 2002, according to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Since then, bilateral trade statistics have been difficult to obtain, but there are few indications to suggest any marked increases in trade.

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India’s string of pearls November 26, 2009

Posted by southasiamasala in : Brewster, David, India, Maldives , comments closed

David Brewster

A recent deal to establish an Indian air base in the Maldives is an important step in India’s goal of creating a network of military facilities and relationships across the Indian Ocean.   In August, India signed a defence pact with the Maldives involving the use of the old British airbase on Gan island by Indian naval aircraft and the establishment of a system of electronic monitoring facilities across the country.   According to the Maldivian President, the installations are to protect the Maldives’ large EEZ from illegal fishing.  Perhaps India is also mindful of the unique position occupied by Maldives, astride the major sea lines of communication between the Middle East and East Asia.

The Maldives base is the latest in a string of military facilities established by India outside of South Asia.  In continental Asia, India operates an air base in Tajikistan and electronic monitoring facilities in Mongolia.  In the Indian Ocean, India has built a major naval and air base in its own Andaman Islands as well as electronic monitoring facilities in Madagascar. India has also entered into security agreements with Indian Ocean states as far afield as Oman , Mozambique , Mauritius, Seychelles and Indonesia.

India’s strategy in the Indian Ocean arguably has two motivations.   First, India is following its ‘manifest destiny’ of gaining naval predominance in the region. Whether India is capable of achieving this ambition remains to be seen. Second, and perhaps more worrying, is India’s strategy of ‘countering’ what it perceives as China’s illegitimate incursions into the Indian Ocean – what has been called China’s ‘String of Pearls’ strategy.   The ‘String of Pearls’ – a term coined in a 2003 report to the Pentagon by the Booz Allen consultants – posits that China is building its own string of naval bases and security relationships in the Indian Ocean, including in Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.  The ‘String of Pearls’ has become a clarion call among many in New Delhi for the need to develop India’s naval capabilities to counter China’s ‘strategic encirclement’ of India.  In some quarters, maps of the Indian Ocean are covered with Chinese (and not Indian) flags. (more…)

South Asia roundup July 17, 2009

Posted by katesullivan in : Bhutan, India, Maldives, Pakistan, South Asia - General, Sullivan, Kate , comments closed

Kate Sullivan

Ratan Tata, Chairman of the Tata Group, India‘s largest conglomerate, will hand over the keys to the first Nano owner at the Tata Motors showroom in central Mumbai today. Dubbed the world’s cheapest car, the Nano has had a tricky journey from its conception in 2003 to its unveiling last year, facing rising commodity prices and political controversy. Set to bring car ownership into the reach of tens of millions of people, the Nano has been the subject of an avalanche of press commentary over the past few months, with even Top Gear seeing fit to provide an online profile.

nano

Photo sourced from Flickr and used under the Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 License

On the sidelines of the 15th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Egypt yesterday, India and Pakistan convened for what was their third high-level meeting since the Mumbai attacks last November. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh released an overwhelmingly positive joint statement in which they agreed to “create an atmosphere of mutual trust and confidence”. The statement’s most groundbreaking element – “Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process” – was, however, its most ambiguous. (more…)