UN rights chief: ‘all-out assault on democracy’ in Maldives

Maldivian Police officers stand guard near the MDP (Maldives Democratic Party) opposition party headquarters after Maldives President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency for 15 days, in Male, Maldives February 6, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 February 2018
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UN rights chief: ‘all-out assault on democracy’ in Maldives

MALE: The UN human rights chief on Wednesday called the declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees an “all-out assault on democracy.”
Political turmoil has swept the Maldives since a surprise court ruling last week that ordered the release of jailed opposition leaders, including many of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s main political rivals. He imposed a state of emergency on Monday.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein said the restrictions “create a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of the president.”
Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago but lost much of those gains after Yameen was elected in 2013.
Zeid said in a statement issued by his office in Geneva that Yameen “has, to put it bluntly, usurped the authority of the state’s rule-of-law institutions and its ability to work independently from the executive.” What is happening now, he said, “is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy.”
Zeid’s criticism came a day after three Maldives Supreme Court justices annulled their earlier order to free the imprisoned opposition politicians after two of the court’s justices were arrested.
The annulment came after Yameen declared the state of emergency, which gives officials sweeping powers to make arrests, search and seize property and restrict freedom of assembly.
The UN and many foreign governments including the United States, Britain and India have expressed concern over the state of emergency and have urged Yameen to respect the earlier court order.
Hours after the emergency was declared, security forces in riot gear stormed the Supreme Court building, arresting the two judges, including Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed. It was not immediately clear what charges they face, if any.
Security forces also arrested former dictator and opposition politician Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. His lawyer, Maumoon Hameed, said Gayoom faced charges including bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.
Gayoom was president from 1978 to 2008, when the Maldives became a multiparty democracy.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male. Tourism now dominates the economy, with wealthy foreigners flown to hyper-expensive resort islands.
But it remains, in many ways, a small community. Gayoom, the former dictator, is the half brother of President Yameen. The two men are now political enemies. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, now the opposition leader, unseated Gayoom in the country’s first democratic elections in 2008. He and Gayoom are now political allies in an opposition alliance.


India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

Updated 8 min 28 sec ago
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India’s Modi faces revived opposition after setback in southern state

  • The BJP had emerged as the single largest party in Karnataka with 104 seats but fell short of a majority.
  • Indian opposition parties join forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in the big southern state

NEW DELHI: Indian opposition parties have joined forces to snatch power from the country’s ruling party in a big southern state, laying the stage for other such alliances in a direct challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s re-election bid next year.
A coalition of Congress and a regional group said on Sunday they will establish a government in Karnataka state next week, after Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) failed to prove its majority despite bagging more seats than any other party in a closely-fought election.
Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the Congress party — which has struggled to make any major political inroads since Modi stormed to power four years ago — said his party will rally regional groups into a common front against Modi.
“I am very proud that the opposition has stood together and defeated the BJP, and we will continue to do so,” said Gandhi.
Karnataka, with a population of 66 million, was the first major state this year to elect an assembly, and will be followed by three more before the general election in 2019.
Political strategists say polls in Karnataka, home to India’s “Silicon Valley” Bengaluru, which was previously known as Bangalore, were seen as a key test of Modi’s popularity but the final outcome highlights the threats he faces from a united opposition are much bigger than anticipated.
“Formation of this coalition is a platform for an anti-BJP alliance for the next year,” said Sandeep Shastri, a political scientist at Bengaluru’s Jain University.
“Any shortfall in other states will further consolidate anti-BJP forces.”
Karnataka’s state’s governor last week allowed Modi’s party to form a government, even as it became clear that with only 104 seats the Hindu nationalist BJP trailed the opposition alliance, which has at least 115 seats in the 225-member assembly. That decision prompted Modi’s rivals to turn to the Supreme Court.
The governor gave the BJP 15 days to prove its majority, but the court ordered a vote of confidence in the assembly on Saturday. Even before that could take place, BJP’s newly appointed state chief minister, B.S. Yeddyurappa, resigned.
To bring the regional party — Janata Dal (Secular) — into the alliance, Congress, which has 78 of the seats, did have to concede the chief minister’s job to the smaller group. Previously, the state had been held by Congress.
“VOTE OF OVERCONFIDENCE“
Mamata Banerjee, a powerful politician in eastern India, described Modi’s failure in Karnataka as a “victory of the regional front.”
In an apparent show of strength against Modi, most opposition leaders have been invited for the upcoming swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka’s new chief minister, said Sanjay Jha, Congress’ national spokesman.
Jha said Congress’ spirit ahead of the 2019 polls was that of “necessary political accommodation” when it comes to forming alliances to stop Modi.
BJP leader Seshadri Chari said no opposition alliance will be able to stop Modi. “BJP will emerge as the single largest party (in 2019) with a majority.”
Modi remains by far the most popular politician in India and his approval rankings far outweigh Gandhi, who is the fifth-generation scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.
US-based research agency Pew released a survey in November that showed nearly nine out of 10 Indians held a favorable opinion of Modi.
On Sunday, Indian newspapers carried front-page headlines highlighting Modi’s loss, a rare sight of late in Indian politics: The BJP and its allies rule 21 of India’s 29 states currently, up from seven they ruled in 2014.
“BJP loses vote of overconfidence,” said the Indian Express newspaper’s front page headline.