COLOMBO: The political conflict in the Maldives, which came into the open on February 1 with the Supreme Court passing two orders which upset President Abdulla Yameen and made him declare a 15-day State of Emergency on February 5, has sharpened since then.

This week, Yameen secured a 30-day extension of the State of Emergency. And this was made possible partly because of the opposition’s petulant boycott of parliament. The boycott was meant to sharpen the conflict and not to resolve the grave issues facing the country.

With the government and the opposition determined to pull in different directions, an end to the imbroglio is not in sight.

Given the irreconcilable positions taken by the two sides, the case for outside non-Maldivian mediation to cut the Gordian knot, is getting stronger. There is no neutral person or force in the Maldives who can mediate given the extremely divisive nature of Maldivian politics.

But outside mediation is also fraught with problems. The opposition led by former President Mohamed Nasheed is seeking UN/Indian mediation, but the government, backed by China, has said that it will not entertain any foreign mediation. The problem can be solved by the Maldivian parties themselves, it insists.

Talks between the Maldivian parties are also problematic. While the government wants unconditional talks, the opposition says it will come for talks only if the opposition leaders now in jail (or sentenced but living abroad as fugitives) are released as per the Supreme Court order of February 1.

But the government is not prepared for that as, in its view, those leaders in jail or living as fugitives abroad (like Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party) had been sentenced for grave crimes like terrorism and bribery. Releasing them would set up a bad precedent and would cause law and order problems, the government argues.

Just a day ahead of a Special Session of parliament on February 19 to vote for the continuation of the State of Emergency, the Yameen government got two orders from the Supreme Court which would enable it to consolidate its hold on power.

One nullified an earlier order to reinstate 12 MPs who had been unseated for crossing over to the opposition, and the other ratified the legality and constitutionality of the State of Emergency.

With these two orders in hand, the Yameen regime could sail through parliament with its legislations, including extension of the State of Emergency.

The government thinks Emergency laws are necessary to curb any tendency to stage violent demonstrations; to continue the investigations into the alleged high level opposition efforts to buy up Supreme Court judges; to prevent foreign elements from helping the opposition and also to defend against any foreign military intervention.

In other words Yameen is arming himself to face a big, long drawn out, fight till he wins the September 2018 Presidential election.

Asked how Yameen could get parliament to “pass” the extension of the State of Emergency with just 38 MPs out of a total of 85, a Maldivian government lawyer said that for ordinary resolutions and legislations, a simple majority of those present and voting is enough. A resolution to extend a State of Emergency is an ordinary one he added.

What triggered the latest phase of the standoff between the opposition and the government was a Supreme Court order of February 1 which stipulated the immediate release and re-trial of nine top opposition leaders including former President Nasheed and the Jumhoory Party leader Gasim Ibrahim .There was also an order to re-instate 12 ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MPs who had been unseated for signing an opposition motion to remove the parliament Speaker.

If the top opposition leaders were released and the 12 MPs were to get back to parliament, the political challenge to Yameen would go up several notches both outside and inside parliament.

Re-trial of the top leaders, if accepted, could go against Yameen. He therefore declared a State of Emergency, arrested the Chief Justice and one of his colleagues, and detained former President and opposition patriarch, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed had upped the ante by asking India to send a “military-backed Special Envoy” to press Yameen to give in to a whole range of the oppositions’ demands, including his right to contest the September 2018 Presidential election. Having been sentenced for terrorism Nasheed would not be able to contest unless freed.

Nasheed is currently a fugitive from the law and is self-exile in the UK. He was serving a sentence for “terrorism” but had been allowed to go to the UK for medical treatment on the condition that he comes back to complete his jail term. But he has not come back.

In the context of the opposition’s appeal for external intervention, and condemnation of the State of Emergency by several Western countries and travel advisories from countries including China, Yameen sent Special Envoys China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to explain his government’s case. His attempt to send an envoy to India failed as New Delhi showed the cold shoulder.

The missions did not bring about a change in the situation. However, the Maldivian government publicized its version of the events. It said that the Supreme Court had violated the law and constitution by passing an order on the release of opposition leaders without hearing the Attorney General.

Later, the court had turned a deaf ear to the government’s law officers who explained why its orders could not be implemented given the gravity of the charges against the leaders. Also, the court had not annulled the earlier orders before issuing a new order.

The government also pointed out that the court had invaded and arrogated to itself the role of the Executive in law and order and security matters thus violating the constitutional principle of Separation of Powers.

Apparently, these explanations did not wash abroad. India and the UN expressed the need for outsider mediation. The Spokesman of the Indian External Affairs Ministry said that India differs from China’s view that foreign powers should keep off Maldives. The spokesman added that China’s view was influenced by its good relations with the Yameen regime.

India is yet to make a diplomatic move to mediate or intervene, but the UN Secretary General has made it known through his spokesperson, that the UN is ready to mediate. However, backed by China, the Yameen government has indicated that it will not accept foreign mediation of any kind.

Meanwhile the Chinese Communist Party-backed Global Times had come out with a scathing attack on calls for an Indian military intervention warning that China would interdict Indian forces if they tried to enter Maldivian waters forcibly.

While not being against an international role in settling issues in the Maldives provided the sovereignty of that country is not violated, China also made it clear that the conflict be solved internally by discussions between the Maldivian parties. China added that the Maldivian parties are perfectly capable of doing that.

In the meantime, to fortify himself against further trouble in and out of parliament, Yameen had on Sunday got two orders from the Supreme Court, one saying that the declaration of the State of Emergency was legal and constitutional and that the other staying the earlier order re-instating the 12 ousted MPs.

On Monday the opposition parties charged that Yameen is trying to entice some opposition MPs to secure a majority in parliament which he now lacks. He has only 38 in a House of 85. He needs 43 (or a simple majority) to pass money bills.