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Asia

Tourism-dependent Maldives in political turmoil

The cabinet in Maldives resigned in late June, declaring it could not carry out its work because of the opposition-controlled parliament. Britain and the US have now issued travel warnings for the country.

The Maldives is made up of 97 islands

The Maldives is made up of 97 islands

The Maldives has been politically unstable ever since its transition to a democratic government in 2008.

The election of President Mohamed Nasheed ended 30 years of autocratic rule by President Abdul Gayoom.

However, the opposition retained a majority in parliament, which has made it very difficult for Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party-led government to function.

"In the opposition, we have a lot of people who used to work for the former dictator, some of the family members for example," explained Paul Robert, communications advisor to the government.

"They are very reluctant to let go of power. What they are trying to do is stop all the government policies. The police have found evidence that some of the opposition members of parliament have been bribing independent MPs to go against government policy. This is quite a scandal in the Maldives".

Opposition blames government

However, the secretary general of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Abuduhrashid Nafiz blamed the government for the current conflict.

"The problem started recently," he explained. "The government sold the shares of cable and wireless to a foreign party and also gave the Maldives international airport to an Indian company for 25 years. The opposition says if the government wants to do such things there should be some transparency - at least the opposition should know what is happening".

The deepening political crisis also led to violent street protests in the capital Male, in which scores of policemen, demonstrators and civilians were injured.

A setback for tourism?

The bitter political struggle has also been a setback for tourism, with the US and Britain issuing travel warnings to their citizens.

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed

Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed

Tourism accounts for a third of the Maldives' GDP, bringing in more than 500 million dollars annually. However, tourism minister Ahmed Ali Sawad said the Maldives was safe.

"We have 97 resort islands, which are separate from the capital. Tourists come to the international airport and then they take a sea plane or a sea transfer to their resort island which is away from the airport. It's a separate island altogether," he explained.

The opposition DRP Secretary General Abuduhrashid Nafiz agreed on this point. "This is a problem among the political parties in parliament. So there is no major problem for incoming tourists but there will be a problem for investors as they will not have any confidence in the unstable government in Maldives".

Vain attempts by international community to mediate

Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa visited the Maldives recently in an attempt to defuse the deadlock.

The US and other countries have also tried to mediate but so far talks between President Mohamed Nasheed and the opposition have not yielded any results.

The opposition believes it is time for new parliamentary elections, whereas the president favors constitutional reforms to prevent such conflicts in future.

Author: Jaisu Bhullar

Editor: Anne Thomas

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