Maldives chaos fuels ‘banana republic’ fears

By Amal Jayasinghe ,AFP

COLOMBO — The Maldives embraced multi-party democracy in 2008 hoping to emerge a modern nation. Five years on, there are fears the honeymoon islands are becoming a “banana republic” ready to implode. The political crisis came to a head Saturday when police blocked elections designed to restore stability after the first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, was toppled 20 months ago. But observers say there should no surprise at the turmoil as key institutions are still run by followers of the country’s long-time dictator who never accepted Nasheed’s 2008 victory. “After a long tradition of one-party rule, the Maldives is now fast becoming a banana republic,” said regional defense analyst Iqbal Athas. “My real fear is that all this political unrest can turn into violent chaos,” added Athas, associate editor of the Colombo-based Sunday Times. Athas said instability could have consequences for regional security because of the huge Indian Ocean trade.

The 1,192 tiny coral islands of the Maldives may be home to only 350,000 mainly Sunni Muslims. But scattered some 850 kilometers (530 miles) across the equator, they are an important location along east-west sea trade. Pro-Western Nasheed, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, was forced to resign following a mutiny by police who are still thought to be loyal to former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 75. It was the same police force that prevented the independent Elections Commission from going ahead with Saturday’s presidential poll, which Nasheed, 46, was widely expected to win. Given that Nasheed was widely forecast to win an outright majority in Saturday’s vote, its scuttling came as no surprise with the Supreme Court having also played its role.