Maldives President Abdulla Yameen appeared Wednesday to have gained the upper hand in a bitter power struggle after a diminished Supreme Court reinstated the convictions of high-profile political dissidents including the exiled leader of the opposition.
The tiny island nation, whose palm-fringed sandy beaches are a major tourist draw, was plunged into crisis last week when the top court ordered the release of nine political prisoners, saying their convictions were flawed.
The ruling appeared to pave the way for the return of Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president and now leader of the opposition, two years after he left his homeland following a controversial terrorism conviction.
But Yameen refused to comply with the ruling and instead declared a 15-day state of emergency, curtailing the powers of the judiciary and the legislature, before ordering the arrest of the chief justice and another top judge.
On Tuesday the three remaining Supreme Court judges reversed last week’s ruling, reinstating the convictions against Nasheed and eight others.
That means the leader of the opposition risks re-arrest if he returns as promised to run against Yameen in presidential elections due later this year in the honeymoon islands.
A statement on Yameen’s website on Wednesday said his administration welcomed the court’s U-turn, which the judges had said was made “in light of the concerns raised by the president”.
Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, has accused the president of acting illegally and urged international intervention in the crisis.
On Tuesday he called on regional superpower India to send in troops to free the judges and the political detainees.
But that is not considered likely in a country where Chinese influence is on the rise.
In a statement, India said it was “disturbed” by the president’s latest moves and was monitoring the situation closely, but did not directly address Nasheed’s request.