THE president of the Maldives resigned yesterday in what one aide described as a coup d’etat.
President Mohamed Nasheed has been credited with bringing democracy to the archipelago and raising awareness of the impact of global warming, at one point holding a cabinet meeting subsea, in scuba gear.
But he has faced weeks of opposition protests and this week a police mutiny.
Mr Nasheed, the Indian Ocean islands’ first democratically elected president, handed power to vice-president Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, explaining that continuing in office would result in his having to use force against the people.
“I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule with the use of power,” he said in a televised address. “I believe that if the government were to remain in power it would require the use of force which would harm many citizens.
Mr Nasheed swept to victory in 2008, pledging to bring full democracy to the low-lying islands and speaking out passionately on the dangers of climate change and rising sea levels.
But he drew fire for his arrest of a judge he accused of being in the pocket of his predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years. Protests set off a constitutional crisis that had Mr Nasheed defending himself against accusations of acting like a dictator.
“It’s a coup, I am afraid,” an official at Mr Nasheed’s office said, asking not to be identified. “The police and Mr Gayoom’s people as well as some elements in the military have forced the president Nasheed to resign. According to my book it’s a coup.”
The new president said this was a “misrepresentation”.
“The people have been out on the street demonstrating for weeks now and it came to a point where the crowds [were] too overwhelming and the president tried to negotiate, was too late and the people prevailed on him to resign.”
Overnight, vandals attacked the lobby of the opposition-linked VTV TV station, witnesses said, while mutinying police attacked and burnt the main rallying point of Mr Nasheed’s Maldives Democratic Party before taking over the state broadcaster MNBC and renaming it TV Maldives, as it was called under Mr Gayoom.
Yesterday, soldiers fired teargas at police and demonstrators who besieged the Maldives National Defence Force headquarters in Republic Square. Later, demonstrators stood outside the nearby president’s office chanting “Gayoom! Gayoom!”.
The protests, and scramble for position ahead of next year’s presidential election, have seen parties adopting hardline Islamist rhetoric and accusing Mr Nasheed of anti-Islamism.
The trouble has also shown the deep rivalry between Mr Gayoom and Mr Nasheed, who was jailed in all for six years after being arrested 27 times by Mr Gayoom’s government while agitating for democracy. The vice-president is expected to run a national unity government until the election.
The trouble has been largely invisible to the 900,000 or so tourists who come every year to visit islands set in aquamarine seas, ringed by white-sand beaches.
Most tourists are whisked to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and enjoy spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, an Islamic state where alcohol is outlawed and revealing beachwear frowned upon.
Mr Nasheed was famous for his pleas for help to stop the sea engulfing his nation and in 2009 held a subsea cabinet meeting.
One Asian diplomat in Male said: “No-one remembers the underwater cabinet meeting. They remember Judge Abdulla Mohamed,” a reference to Mr Nasheed having the military arrest the judge accused of being in Mr Gayoom’s pocket