Koreas’ bilateral deal leaves US behind? : Maldives chooses President amid Indian Ocean rivalries | Sunday Observer

Koreas’ bilateral deal leaves US behind? : Maldives chooses President amid Indian Ocean rivalries

Maldivians will vote today to ostensibly ‘freely’ choose their next President but with the entire political opposition and much of the world already convinced that the incumbent President has loaded the electoral system’s dice in his favour. China, increasingly playing the role of big power patron of client states, seems to already have our beautiful island archipelago neighbour as one such client state. India, geo-politically outsmarted by Beijing in much of the region’s alignments, once again finds itself on the sidelines of tumultuous events in the tiny island republic.

Meanwhile, in the Korean Peninsula, history was substantively made last week with the momentous inter-Korean summit and signing of a military de-escalation and bilateral peace-building agreement. While, like the Singapore summit last June between US President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, the Pyongyang Agreement between the two Koreas is short in details of implementation. But the two Koreas have, at least, committed to doing far more to bring about peace on a Peninsula that has not seen a formal ending to the devastating Korean War of the early 1950s.

The Inter-Korea agreement seeks a full de-nuclearisation of the whole Peninsula which implies that the US forces currently based in South Korea would also have shed any nuclear armaments. The depth of the Pyongyang Agreement caught Washington off-guard and US officials and commentators are belittling its sweeping ramifications that could seriously effect the US presence in east Asia.

Also, last week, in Palestine, the conditions of the Palestinian refugees earlier displaced from Israel got worse after Israeli occupation administrators backed by security forces enforced the latest brutal court order evicting refugees from a makeshift settlement they had been living in since their eviction, decades earlier, from their traditional villages in what is now Zionist Israel.

As usual, West Asia’s one-time ‘honest broker’ facilitator, the US, is otherwise pre-occupied with the domestic (and sexual) politics of a Supreme Court justice nomination. A significant feature of the Donald Trump administration is the relatively low-key engagement of US politicians (both government and opposition) with international affairs and American foreign policy and strategy. This is partly due to the inward-looking ideological slant of the currently ruling Republican Party as well as the distractions due to either unseemly behaviour by their loud mouthed and socially insensitive President or, by the sheer significance of the numerous controversies that have arisen as result of the Trump Administration’s policies.

Lower courts Judge Brett Kavanaugh was recently nominated to the US Supreme Court by President Trump to fill a vacancy. The just 53-years-old Kavanaugh is known as a social and political arch conservative and is likely to rule against any progressive or ground-breaking legislation or litigation for the decades to come if he is confirmed in the life-long top court office.

The controversy has now worsened after Californian university professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward to accuse Kavanaugh of attempting to rape her during their youth when they attended the same high school. Kavanaugh has denied that the event occurred, but evidence seems to be mounting against him.

But most American commentators expect the dominant Republicans to force through confirmation of Kavanaugh’s nomination notwithstanding possible damage to their own popular standing in the electorate. Donald Trump has worsened the atmosphere by tweeting against the accuser woman and questioning her credibility even though no investigation has even begun. Meanwhile, opposition Democrats are rubbing their hands with satisfaction over the latest public opinion polls that show that most Americans – 53 per cent – strongly feel that their president should be impeached.

Whatever might happen to the Kavanaugh appointment in remote Washington, our attention needs to focus on a political crisis likely to worsen just 902 kilometres southwest from our shores, in the idyllic coral atoll archipelago of The Maldives islands. As at yesterday, the presidential elections were on track and this morning voters in the 1,200 plus islands of the archipelago will go to the polls.

But there immense controversy that has built up in recent months over many moves by the current government of President Abdulla Yameen to change the electoral system as well as the justice system in ways that give more power to the government to force through electoral outcomes in its favour. At the same time most of the top opposition personalities are either in detention or, like past President Mohamed Nasheed, are in exile. Since Nasheed, on the basis of a highly controversial court conviction is barred from contesting, his Maldivian Democratic Party has fielded a respected senior parliamentarian, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as their substitute candidate. Given that all the major opposition political parties are in coalition and support Solih, the electoral arithmetic should favour him because the combine opposition voting constituencies outnumber the vote banks of incumbent President Yameen’s regime.

The opposition alliance has long made Sri Lanka – the country nearest to The Maldives – its home base and several senior Maldivian politicians, including the popular Nasheed, are currently in Colombo, monitoring events in Male.

At a pre-election news briefing on Friday in Colombo, Nasheed, who was originally popular as a risk-taking democracy activist against previous Maldivian President Abdul Gayoom’s regime, claimed that today’s presidential election is rigged in favour of incumbent strongman Yameen. Nasheed openly accused China of attempting to “maintain an authoritarian regime” in the strategically located island republic. He charged that President Yameen had “manipulated the constitution and the election system” to ensure he wins.

The MDP and opposition alliance leader argued that, given the greater combined voter strength MDP candidate Solih should easily win if the election system was functioning normally.

However, “President Yameen has dismantled the Constitution to establish strongman rule” and had “fixed the elections” in such a manner to ensure his continuation in power, Mr. Nasheed charged.

He pointed out that the election was not being monitored by international observers since most established international monitoring groups were staying away having already ruled the elections system to be politically skewed by the regime’s manipulations. The European Union, United Nations, the British Commonwealth were among election monitoring bodies that had already ruled the conduct of the elections was undemocratic.

Mr. Nasheed appealed to the international community not to recognise a victory by incumbent President Yameen and to isolate his regime with trade sanctions and other political measures. He urged governments not to trade with the Yameen regime and said that he was on in “close conversation” with the Indian government and had urged Delhi to attend with more diligence to the on-going crisis in Tha Maldives.

Nasheed, who was originally credited with ushering in China’s presence in the strategically valued island nation when he was first briefly in power, now asserts that “China does not have experience of modern democracy” and was not sensitive to issues of democratic governance. Hence, Beijing was supporting the Male regime in the conduct of the elections in ways that would only help the governing party candidate, he said. He charged that all the government’s requirements of printed election material had been printed by Chinese companies while incumbent President Yameen’s re-election campaign was being advised by foreign experts outsourced by Chinese agencies aiding the Male regime.

While acknowledging his continuing contacts with India, Nasheed said he had not spoken with China due to Beijing’s lack of democratic practices. He claimed that The Maldives was already in a ‘debt trap’ created by the large volume of Chinese credit to development projects and was being forced to offset the unmanageable debt with equity holdings offered to China in the geo-politically sensitive projects being implanted by Beijing.

He said that a new ‘Cold War’ had begun between India and China in the Indian Ocean region and that The Maldives was being subjected to geopolitical manipulations and interference due to its important location. The ex-president warned that if today’s vote count went against Yameen but the incumbent President attempted to force through his own return to power, “there will be chaos”.

The MDP led opposition coalition has set up an elections monitoring secretariat in the Hotel Janaki, Colombo. Over 40,000 Maldivians are known to reside in Sri Lanka, mainly in Colombo.