Yameen was elected into office in 2012 after the previous president, Mohammed Nasheed, was forced to resign at gunpoint by security forces loyal to former strongman Maumoon Gayoom.
Yameen and Gayoom were seen as allies and Gayoom’s daughter served as the island nation’s foreign minister until last year. However, both men have had a falling out over the past 12 months resulting in the arrest of Gayoom’s son, Faris, on charges of identity fraud.
Since then, the elder Gayoom and his allies in parliament have left the ruling coalition and joined the opposition causing a parliamentary crisis. While the Maldives operates on a Presidential system, meaning Yameen’s position is not yet at stake, the defection has undoubtedly weaken the president’s power.
A supreme court ruling on February 1 added to President Yameen’s woes by calling for a retrial of ousted president Nasheed who was convicted of terrorism charges by Yameen’s government. Nasheed is currently in exile in the United Kingdom.
Suspending parliament and the courts
In response to the court decision and the defections, Yameen has suspended the courts ordering military and police to hold several sitting justices. Security forces loyal to Yameen have also arrested Gayoom, whose current whereabouts are unknown.
Western nations including the US and the EU have released statements expressing concerns at Yameen’s decision and called for a restoration of parliamentary norms.
With a strategic position in the Indian ocean, the Maldives has value beyond its reputation as a holiday paradise. China sees the island nation as a key link in its Belt and Road Initiative as part of its maritime silk road plan. The Maldives is situated close to major maritime shipping lanes.
With Beijing closely courting the Maldivian government, President Yameen broke a contract with Indian construction giant GMR and awarded an airport construction deal to the Chinese government. The move sparked concern from New Delhi who see the Indian Ocean as under its hegemony. India has previously supported the Maldives with monetary and security investments.