(Reuters) - The government of the Maldives will resist any attempt by the Supreme Court to impeach President Abdulla Yameen for disobeying its order last week to release jailed opposition leaders, the attorney general said on Sunday.
Following are details of the tussle between the court and the president, which is threatening to spark a constitutional crisis and undermine Yameen’s control of the Indian Ocean nation since he took power in 2013.
What is behind the tussle between the Supreme Court and President Yameen’s government?
The court on Thursday ordered the immediate release of former president Mohamed Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders and ordered they be tried again, saying the previous proceedings had violated the constitution and international law.
In its ruling ordering the release of Nasheed, the Supreme Court said it found that prosecutors and judges had been unduly influenced “to conduct politically motivated investigations” into the allegations leveled at Nasheed and others.
The nine had been jailed on charges ranging from terrorism to treason and corruption.
The court also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year, saying their removal was unconstitutional.
The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member parliament.
Should the opposition reach a majority, they would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no confidence motions against government officials.
What’s behind the rivalry between President Yameen and former President Nasheed?
Former President Nasheed won elections in 2008, but was forced to resign in 2012 after ordering the arrest of a top criminal court judge, Abdulla Mohamed, for alleged corruption.
Nasheed then lost the 2013 election to Yameen, and was sentenced to a 13-year jail term in 2015 for arresting judge Mohamed. Though Western countries have said Nasheed’s action against the judge was against the law, they also raised concerns over his trial, which they called unfair.
Nasheed is currently in Britain on medical grounds but is seeking to contest elections against Yameen due by October, posing a big threat to the current president.
Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.
He even got the help of human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, married to Hollywood actor George Clooney, to expose alleged human rights violation by Yameen’s administration.
What are Yameen’s options now?
So far, Yameen has ignored the order, although he has stopped short of saying he will not obey it. He fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court verdict last week, however, and continues to jail opposition members.
On Sunday, police raided the home of Hassan Saeed, the head of the judicial administration department, which the opposition said was considering a corruption investigation into Yameen. The Supreme Court later annulled the arrest warrant against Saeed.
Members of the ruling party have also sought to shut down an independent TV station accusing it of spreading “discord,” sparking a call from the U.S. embassy in Columbo, Sri Lanka, for Yameen’s government to respect the freedom of the press.
But in terms of the order, Yameen has limited options. His administration can seek to arrest the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges on corruption allegations, targeting them the same way he has gone after opposition members, Western diplomats who are closely following developments told Reuters.
That would allow him to reverse the Supreme Court ruling, but at the risk of exacerbating a constitutional crisis. Close allies of Yameen say his main concern is that former President Nasheed and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb have said they can prove the current president engaged in past corrupt deals if they are released. Yameen has denied any corruption allegations.
But importantly, the army is supporting the president. On Sunday several police and soldiers said in a live broadcast they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defense of the lawful government”.
The combined opposition says they fear a military takeover of the islands to preserve Yameen’s grip on power.
What is the international reaction so far? What about domestically?
Yameen has ignored calls from the United States and India, among other nations, to heed the court decision on Nasheed. When the Commonwealth pressed Yameen to uphold the rule of law, his government voted for the Maldives to quit the Commonwealth.
He has also disregarded all international calls to solve the political crisis through dialogue.
China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, has so far been silent. But the country is expected to slow down any deals, given concerns about political stability.
Male, the capital of the Maldives, experienced some minor clashes between protesters and the police, but the streets were quiet over the weekend.
Yameen has sought in the past to suppress protests, and on Sunday the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) said it would stop activities that “openly threaten the security and safety of the Maldives”.
Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Rafael Nam and Catherine Evans