Ever since Mohamed Nasheed—a former president of the Maldives—came to Britain in January 2016, he has made a series of public appearances. During these events, held in the months before he was granted political asylum in May, his message has seldom wavered: Maldives, the archipelago in the Indian Ocean consisting of about 1190 islands, is in turmoil. In 2008, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had come to power in the Maldives after the country held its first ever democratic elections, heralding the end of a three-decade-long dictatorship. Now, it had gone back to it.
On the chilly morning of 1 June 2016, as Nasheed took the stage in a large hall at the Royal Over-seas League, a non-profit club in London, he was, in the eyes of the Maldivian judiciary, a “terrorist” on the run. This was unsurprising given that the judiciary in the Maldives has had a history of issuing rulings convenient for the president Abdulla Yameen, the erstwhile dictator Mamoun Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother.
The former president was not the only one to have fallen out of favour of the judiciary, and by extension, Yameen. Nasheed shared the stage with, among others, four members of the country’s political elite. While the banner behind these speakers read “Maldives United Opposition,” the resistance against the present leadership was anything but cohesive. Each of the four Nasheed sat with had played a crucial role in a watershed coup in 2012 that had forced Nasheed to resign. It had also set the stage for Yameen to take over the presidency in farcical elections, held in 2013.
But when launching his newly formed alliance, Nasheed played down the chequered past of its members. “We have had our differences,” he told his audience, which consisted of nearly 30 members of the British media, politics and civil society. “But today, we have come together in one united opposition.”
He then laid out the Maldives United Opposition (MUO)’s agenda: “We don’t believe the present government in Maldives is willing to have free and fair elections [in 2018]. We must find enough leverages over the government so that it will relent and speak to us.”