Fortnightly Review & Analysis - Neighbourhood Studies (Vol 2 Issue VII)

(Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka & Maldives)
April 1 – 15, 2017

Pakistan

Jadhav Death Sentence Sends Indo-Pak Ties Further South

The death sentence pronounced on former Indian Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav by a Kangaroo court – a Field General Court Martial – has added to the tension and bitterness in the already fraught Indo-Pak relations. In a furious reaction, the government of India said that if the sentence was carried out it would be a case of ‘premeditated murder’ and warned of consequences. On the Pakistani side, the military, politicians cutting across political lines and the media which whipped up public hysteria, all supported the verdict of what India called a ‘farcical trial’. Defending not just the court martial of Jadhav but also the denial of consular access to India, Sartaj Aziz, Advisor on Foreign Affairs to the Prime Minister claimed in a press briefing that the laws of evidence were followed in the trial and read out the charges that were levelled against Jadhav, which seemed to suggest that Jadhav was some kind of a superman spy. But other than the forced confession of Jadhav, until now there is not a shred of credible evidence produced against him that would prove the veracity of all that he has been accused of. Interestingly, after the sentence was announced, the defence minister claimed that the trial was on for the last three months. But merely a month ago, Sartaj Aziz had told the Senate of Pakistan that the government was preparing for Jadhav’s trial. And during his press briefing, the same Sartaj Aziz claimed that the trial had commenced over five months back. Clearly, either the civilians have been kept totally out of the loop by the military, or they make up their story as they go along.

The timing of Jadhav’s sentencing is significant. A day or two before Jadhav’s sentence was announced, the Pakistani media reported that a Lt. Col. of the Pakistan Army, who had (and probably still was) been in the ISI, had disappeared from Nepal. There was speculation in Pakistan that the officer, Mohammad Habib Zahir, had been ‘abducted’ by Indian intelligence in order to swap him for Jadhav. If so, then by sentencing Jadhav, the Pakistan army was upping the ante and taking a position that there will be no deal on Jadhav. Whether this is mere posturing or it is a position carved in stone, remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the focus is on how the two sides will resolve this matter. Clearly, depending on the legal remedies available to Jadhav will not be enough because these are basically extensions of the Kangaroo court that condemned him in the first place – Jadhav can appeal to an appellate court (military), after which he can file a mercy petition first with the Pakistan army chief and finally with the President. This means that the only way to get Jadhav out of his predicament is if India goes beyond the normal diplomatic methods and channels to put the required pressure on Pakistan to set Jadhav free.

A small sideshow to the Jadhav affair was that of a notorious Karachi gangster, Uzair Baloch, who was also taken by the Army in its custody to try him in a court martial. The charges leveled against him are of spying for a foreign country, in this instance Iran. But there are insinuations linking Uzair Baloch to Jadhav. The Iranian ambassador has of course angrily rejected the ‘vilification campaign’ claiming that Baloch was an asset of the Iranian intelligence. But there are two other aspects to the Uzair Baloch story that are interesting. The first is that it seems Court Martial’s are becoming something of a norm to hold summary trials of people who the military has decided to eliminate, albeit with a veneer of legality. This could be the fallout of the ineffectiveness of the recently passed Military Courts law which seriously dilutes the effectiveness of these courts to act as judge, jury and executioner without the niceties of due process. The second aspect of the Uzair Baloch case has to do with domestic politics and the screws that could be tightening around Asif Zardari and some of his close cronies who are believed to have used people like Baloch to not just settle political scores but also launder money and provide weapons to their supporters. This second aspect got further wind after the disappearance of three of Zardari’s closest personal aides who used to manage his affairs in Pakistan. While the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has been agitating over this disappearance, there has as yet been no sign of the whereabouts of these men who, it is believed, were abducted by the Pakistan Army or Rangers and are now being squeezed to get evidence that can implicate Zardari and possibly lead to his removal from Pakistan's political scene.

Political Temperature Rises amid Rumours of impending Panama Verdict

Even before the disappearance of Asif Zardari’s aides, the political temperature has been rising in Pakistan. With rumours swirling around a likely adverse verdict in the Panama Papers case against Nawaz Sharif and his family, all political players have started jostling for political space and setting the political agenda so that they are well positioned to reap the benefit if indeed the judgment goes against the Sharifs’ and early elections are called. Although the PPP has been talking very big in the last few weeks with Zardari even going to the extent of assuring his party’s supporters that he will ensure that the next Prime Minister will be decided by PPP, the fact of the matter is that except for rural Sindh, the PPP has been virtually wiped out in rest of Pakistan. In Sindh too, it is the lack of a visible and viable alternative, as well as some old fashioned politicking by PPP which has been busy roping in influential Sindhi leaders from other parties, that has prevented the PPP from being a washout in Sindh. Picking up the gauntlet thrown by Zardari, Nawaz Sharif has been making a beeline for Sindh and has been making efforts to resurrect the Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PMLN) in the province where it has hardly any presence, much less a party machinery. Meanwhile, in Punjab, Imran Khan has been continuing with his rants against Nawaz Sharif and has been predicting the imminent political demise of the Sharif family. In his exuberance, Imran Khan has riled the PPP, with which there appeared to be a budding alliance (or at least electoral understanding) by railing against the first family of PPP – the Zardari clan. This led to the breaking of the tacit alliance, which doesn’t really bother Imran Khan because he stood to gain less with an understanding with PPP and lose more as a result of an association with that party.

Of course, all these political manoeuvres could come a cropper if the Supreme Court passes a typical sterile ruling and kicks the can further down the road. In other words, if there is no liability imposed on the Sharifs, then most of the political calculations of the opposition parties will go awry, leaving the Sharifs’ in pole position going into the next general election.

University Mob Lynches Student for Allegedly Committing Blasphemy

For weeks now, the issue of blasphemy was being agitated at both the level of the judiciary (in particular the Islamabad High Court, IHC) and government. While one of the judges of IHC, notorious for his right-wing Islamist inclinations, had taken upon himself the mantle of a crusader against those allegedly committing blasphemy in cyberspace (especially on social media sites), even going to the extent of threatening to ban all social media platforms, top officials and ministers were acquiescing to the over the top firmans of the judge, Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui, and even trying to internationalise the issue by raising it at the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) level and with other foreign interlocutors. A climate of intolerance was being deliberately fanned in the name of fighting blasphemy, and sooner or later something had to give.

A hostel room debate went horribly wrong in the Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan when a violent mob of students and university staffers lynched one of the boys, accusing him of blasphemy. The mob dragged the student out of his hostel, beat him up, threw him from the second floor to the ground, shot him dead, and then proceeded to desecrate his dead body, all the while shooting the entire gory scene with their phone cameras and shooting selfies with the mutilated dead body, and sharing all this footage on social media proudly. Later, it became known that the local Imam in the student’s hometown refused to perform funeral rites. An embarrassed government in both Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Islamabad was forced to respond to the outrageous incident. A judicial inquiry was ordered by the provincial government after Imran Khan reacted very strongly to the incident. The police has booked about 20 people including students, Imams and university staff for their involvement in the incident. The Chief Justice of Pakistan has also taken suo moto notice of the lynching. But skeptics believe that asides of pro forma condemnation of the incident and some eyewash of an action against some members of the mob, it will be back to business as usual after a couple of weeks, if not days.

Terrorists Strike in Lahore, Kurram Agency

Continuing with their Operation Ghazi, the Jamaatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for a car bombing on a Shia Imambargah in Parachinar town of Kurram agency, killing over two dozen people and injuring around 100 others. The Parachinar attack was followed by a suicide attack on army personnel who were accompanying a team of census enumerators in Lahore. Four soldiers and other people were killed in the attack which was claimed by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Pakistan Enthused at Possibility of US Intervention in Indo-Pak Ties

Remarks by the US Ambassador to UN, Nikki Haley, that the Trump administration is concerned about the relationship between India and Pakistan and would like to see how it de-escalate any sort of conflict the two countries, adding that the administration would be in talks to see how it can try and find its place in any Indo-Pak engagement because of its concerns about the situation between the two countries, has enthused most Pakistanis who think that they will be able to get the US to act as a mediator and thereby internationalise the Kashmir issue. While India unceremoniously shot down any possibility of a third party mediation, the Pakistanis are going into an overdrive to get the US to intercede between India and Pakistan. The Pakistanis are also feeling encouraged by the fact that the Trump administration has authorised disbursement of $550 million as Coalition Support Funds and is all set to upgrade Pakistan's fleet of C130 aircraft with advanced avionics.

Afghanistan

Russia Deepens Involvement in Afghanistan

Amid concerns expressed by the US Defense Secretary James Mattis about Russian interactions with Taliban fighters, and accusations by a senior Afghan police official that Russian military advisors were providing the Taliban with weapons and training, Russia has offered to host peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban rebels. This offer followed the meeting of 12 countries hosted by Russia in Moscow to discuss the Afghan peace process. Although the Americans did not attend the conference, the countries participating in the meeting endorsed ‘national reconciliation using political methods in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions’. The meeting also called upon the Taliban to abandon violence and enter into a dialogue with the Afghan government. Meanwhile, as part of the understanding arrived in London between the Afghan National Security Advisor and Pakistan Prime Minister’s Advisor on Foreign Policy, a direct hotline was established between the Pakistani commander of Southern Command and the Afghan Corps Commander to sort out problems on the border. But the Afghans have continued to oppose Pakistani plans to fence the border and have even lodged a complaint with the UNSC about Pakistani activities along the border. The Pakistani foreign office has of course dismissed the Afghan protestations and defended the border management measures being taken by Pakistan. But, while the Pakistan foreign office played bad cop, the Pakistani generals played good cop with the Afghans. During a visit to the UK, the Pakistan army chief met a senior Afghan military officer and is reported to have told him that he grieved for Afghans who fell victim to terror as much as he did for terror victims from Pakistan. The Pakistani NSA went a step further in protesting Pakistani innocence on charges of backing the Taliban. Lt. Gen. Nasser Janjua told visiting Afghan journalists, one daresay rather disingenuously, that the Taliban considered Pakistan as an agent of the US, and asked quite incredulously that how if Pakistan was supporting the Afghan Taliban, then the TTP was attacking Pakistan? That the Pakistani narrative has been that the Afghan Taliban are the good Taliban and TTP is the bad Taliban was quite clearly glossed over by Gen Janjua.

US Drops ‘Mother Of All Bombs’ On ISIS Fighters In Afghanistan

In what is being regarded as a strong message to multiple players in and around Afghanistan, the US dropped a 10000 kg bomb, which has been dubbed as the Mother of all Bombs (MOAB), on an ISIS base in the Achin district of Nangarhar province bordering Pakistan. Reportedly, the bomb whose shock waves were felt across the border in Pakistan as well, killed around a 100 ISIS fighters and destroyed a cave and tunnel complex that was being used by these terrorists. Ostensibly, the bomb was used to further an operation jointly launched by Afghan and US troops against the ISIS. Apparently, the troops were finding it difficult to dislodge the ISIS fighters who were operating from the targeted cave-cum-tunnel complex.

But the tactical reasons for the use of this fearsome ordinance was probably only part of the story. The strategic import of such an ordinance was much more significant. The fact that it was dropped around the time that the multilateral meeting being held in Moscow was ending, suggests that the US was sending a signal that it cannot be side-lined and that it is very much committed to Afghanistan. In this sense, it was a message to not just the Russians, who are believed to be fishing in Afghanistan’s troubled waters, but also to their potential allies, Pakistan, which is increasingly trying to stitch a Russia-China-Pakistan alliance to get the Taliban installed in Kabul. The message was also to the Taliban that the US is not about to throw in the towel anytime soon. The bomb probably also assured the Afghans of the US commitment to staying the course. Cynics also claim that it was a test of the weapon in real conditions, and that too against a target to which no one could have any objections. Some analysts also believe that the bomb was equally a signal to the North Koreans who are once again indulging in nuclear and missile sabre-rattling.

Nepal

New Constitution Amendment Bill tabled in Parliament

On 11th April, 2017, government tabled a new Constitution Amendment Bill in the Parliament to address the concerns of the agitating Madhesi parties, demanding more representation and re-demarcation of State boundaries ahead of next month’s local level elections. The government withdrew the earlier Constitution Amendment Bill that it had tabled in Parliament on January 8, 2017 and registered a new proposal at the Parliament Secretariat.

The new proposal, while retaining the amendments on language and citizenship mentioned in the earlier proposal, has brought in some changes in the articles related to provincial boundary and national assembly representation issues through a federal commission. Regarding provincial boundary issue, the proposal seeks to amend Article 296 (4) stating that, “Until the provincial assemblies come into existence, the Legislature-Parliament will exercise their (legislative) power. The proposal has added Article 296 (4) (a), as per which the legislation formulated as per Article 296 (4) will become inoperative a year after the provincial assemblies are formed.

The government through the new proposal has sought to scrap the term “federal” from Article 295 and also scrap Article 295 (1). Instead, it seeks to amend Article 287 and add Article 287 (a.1), which says: “The government may constitute a federal commission for making suggestions on matters relating to the boundaries of provinces”. Article 287 (a.2) has been added, which says: “The mandate and working procedure of such a commission would be determined by the government”. The proposal seeks to amend Article 274 to add sub-article 8a, which says notwithstanding anything contained in Article 274 (8), until the provincial assembly is constituted, Federal Parliament can endorse the bills related to Article 274 (4a), which calls for agreement on change of provincial boundaries from the respective provincial assemblies and in case change is related to Schedule 6, agreements must be sought from all provincial assemblies.

Regarding representation in the national assembly, the new proposal seeks to amend Article 86 (2) (a), as per which Chief and Deputy Chiefs of municipalities and rural municipalities (village councils) will not be part of an electoral college that will elect the national assembly. The remaining issues have been retained from the earlier provision, which calls for ensuring representation of 35 members in the national assembly on the basis of population of provinces.

The Madhes-based parties, however, boycotted House meeting against withdrawing the earlier constitution amendment bill. They were of the view that “the bill must not be withdrawn until a Federal Commission tables its report.” However, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party has decided to back the new Bill through it also has reservations on certain provisions therein.

Many agitating Madhes-based parties including the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha (SLMM) and Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal, have expressed their unwillingness to participate in the elections. The Madhes-based parties have accordingly not provided names and signatures of the party officials authorized to give official letter of nomination of the candidates to the Election Commission (EC) for the upcoming local elections. A total of 63 political parties out of 80 registered with the Election Commission, have provided the required details to the Election Commission.

Upendra Yadav of Sanghiya Samajwadi Forum Nepal said that his party participated in the electoral process as defined by Election Commission hoping that political consensus would be reached on the demands of the Madhesi parties. He further accused the government of ‘cheating’ the Madhesis by registering fresh Constitution–Amendment Bill going against the spirit of understanding with the party which forced the Samyukta Loktantrik Madhesi Morcha to boycott the elections. However according to latest media reports, the Federal Socialist Forum-Nepal, a member of this alliance has met all the Election Commission’s deadlines and is ready to participate in the forthcoming polls. Sarbendra Shukla of Tarai Madhes Loktantrik Party said the government has failed to create conducive political environment for holding of the elections. The United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF) have rejected the Constitution Amendment Bill and voiced its non-participation in the election till its demands are met.

Bangladesh

Prime Minister Hasina Visits India (7-10 April, 2017)

Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh arrived in New Delhi on April 7 on a 4-day visit. This was her first bilateral visit to India in seven years; the last being in January, 2010.Prime Minister Modi personally received Sheikh Hasina at the airport.On 8th April, 2017, the visiting PM’s programme started with paying respect to the memorial of Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, also paying tributes to Indian soldiers who laid down lives in Bangladesh’s Liberation War of 1971. Her other major engagements included formal meeting with President Pranab Mukherjee, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, release of the Hindi translation of Sheikh Mujibur Rehman’s book “Unfinished Memoirs” and offering prayers at the Shrine of Sufi Saint Khwaja Mouinuddin Chisti in Ajmer. Prime Minister Hasina addressed a business event held in New Delhi on April 10 jointly organized by the leading Indian and Bangladesh business community.

The substantive part of the visit was of course the extensive bilateral talks between the two Prime Ministers that led to India and Bangladesh signing a total of 22 Agreements and MoU’s on a wide spectrum of issues ranging from defense cooperation, peaceful use of outer space, Nuclear energy to electronics, information technology, establishment of Border Haats, judicial sector cooperation and regulation of Motor Vehicles.

Recognising the need for urgent measures to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism, violent extremism and radicalization in the region and beyond, the two Prime Ministers reiterated their determination to take concrete measures to cooperate and coordinate the law enforcement, intelligence and security organizations efforts to ensure that their respective territories would not be allowed to be used for any activities inimical to each other’s interests.

In the context of improved connectivity where China is pushing ahead with its Belt & Road initiative, India has chosen to extend funds to rebuild old railway lines, and construct bridges, power plants, ports and roads in Bangladesh. Plans to revive inland waterway channels are also under way, and hold the potential to increase connectivity with Nepal and Bhutan. Not only will these measures strengthen the bonds with Bangladesh, with which India shares its longest international border as well as historical bonds, they will help India connect to itself, to the benefit especially of the North-Eastern States.

On the emotive issue of Teesta water accord, PM Modi categorically assured the visiting PM during the joint press conference that the issue will be resolved in not too distant future before the terms of the two PMs ends! This is being interpreted as a likely solution being worked out within a year plus.

Death Sentence Carried Out

Bangladesh executed Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami chief Mufti Abdul Hannan and his two associates Sharif Shahedul Alam Bipul and Delwar Hossain aka Ripun, on 12th April. It may be recalled that Hannan and his accomplices were handed death sentence for launching a grenade attack at the Shahjalal Shrine in Sylhet in 2004.

Sri Lanka

Hambantota Port Deal Amended Again

The Cabinet Sub Committee appointed to work out guidelines for leasing out the Hambantota Port, had taken up for consideration, among others, a proposal to reduce the lease tenure from 99 years to 50 years. There were a number of proposals put forward to the committee seeking to amend the original draft of the agreement to hand over an 80 percent stake of the port to China Merchants Ports Holding Company. In addition to reduction of the lease period, it has also been proposed that the Harbour Master should be responsible to Sri Lanka Ports Authority. The source said President Sirisena also wanted the reduction of lease period to 50 years. Also, it is proposed that Sri Lanka Navy should provide security to the Port by having a base there. In equity sharing, it has to be 60-40 not 80-20 as in the original draft.

Sources close to the Committee said the new agreement, once finalized, would be signed between China Merchants Ports Holding Company and a local company registered under the Companies Act here. That decision has been taken because it is legally impossible to do so with Sri Lanka Ports Authority, unless the act is amended. All these proposals are under discussion now. The final draft will be worked out after further deliberations.

Development of Hambantota port is a crucial part of Beijing’s ambitious plans to create a modern-day “Silk Road” across Asia. Sri Lanka is also willing to join hands with China to build the Belt and Road so as to speed up the island country's economic development and boost regional economic integration. The amended deal comes after the project was delayed amid protests by trade unions, landowners and political opposition led by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa and some current coalition government ministers. In January, hundreds of protesters refused to vacate their land and clashed with police at the opening of the industrial zone – the first violent opposition to Chinese investment in Sri Lanka. Similarly, many Asian friends of Sri Lanka have expressed concerns over the non-transparent nature of Chinese projects as China is heavily investing in roads and harbors of the country. Against this backdrop, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe assured the international community, while in Tokyo last month that Sri Lanka will make sure no military activity is conducted at its ports, although he did not mention any specific country.

India Sends Assistance as Sri Lanka Faces Severe Drought

Sri Lanka is suffering one of the worst droughts with over a million people facing acute water shortages. The country has experienced prolonged dry season with some districts having 60-70 percent less rainfall. India has rushed emergency assistance of water and rice to the Island country. The commitment to donate eight water bowsers and 100 metric tons of rice as immediate assistance for drought relief was made by Foreign Secretary of India Dr. Jaishankar to Sri Lanka Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mangala Samaraweera, during his recent visit to Sri Lanka in February 2017.

Sri Lanka to Set Up the Truth Commission at the Earliest

Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. Harsha De Silva has assured that the government will soon set up the Truth Commission and also gazette the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) under a selected ministry. He said that as a sovereign country and people, the government has taken steps within a democratic setting and it is moving ahead as fast as it can to achieve reconciliation.

Trinco Oil Tanks to be Leased Out to India

After deliberations at the highest level involving even the President, the Government of Sri Lanka has decided to lease out the Trincomalee Oil Tank Farm for development jointly with India. In the lower farm, there are 14 tanks currently being used by Lanka Indian Oil Company (LIOC). However, there are 84 tanks in the Upper Tank Farm that are not being used at the moment. Ten of these tanks would be retained by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), and the rest would be developed jointly with LIOC under a joint venture. The initial move was to hand over all the tanks to the Indian authorities. However, the President insisted that at least ten tanks should be vested with the Sri Lankan side.

The Oil Tank Farm of Trincomalee in the Easter Province of Lanka was built by the British but was never used in full capacity. It is the second deepest natural harbour in the world, the British who were in control of the island decided make this as their primary logistics station in the east after World War I. They started the oil storage project in the 1924 and completed in late 1930’s. The farm had 101 storage tanks built with 1 inch thick steel sheets and the tanks near the harbour are enclosed by 1 feet thick concrete rings. Each tank could hold 12,000 tonnes of fuel and has a total capacity of over 1.2 million tonnes.

The storage complex fell in to disuse after the British ceded power in 1948. The government owned CPC used only 15 tanks in the lower tank farm close to the sea until the farm was handed over to the Indian oil giant IOC in 2002. The IOC too used only these tanks. Indian Oil Corporation subsidiary Lanka IOC, engaged in bunkering operations, runs 15 out of the 99 storage tanks in the lower oil tank farm in Trincomalee. The proposed joint venture pertains to the remaining 84 tanks in the upper farm, but Sri Lanka would retain 10 of those for use by the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation and most of the tanks are in good condition. During his visit to Sri Lanka in March 2015, Prime Minister Modi had said the project to develop the upper tank farm in Trincomalee would help the coastal town become a regional petroleum hub.

Amnesty International to Raise IPKF Culpability with India

The visiting General Secretary of Amnesty International (AI) Salil Shetty said in Colombo that if the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) personnel were found culpable of disappearances in Sri Lanka during its stay in the country between 1987 and 1990, the issue would be taken up with the Indian Government. He said there has to be a proper investigation on what happened and who was accountable. “If there is an investigation and at least the culpability of actors, we will take it up (with the Indian Government). That’s what Amnesty International does. We don’t spare anybody. You can be sure about that,” he added.

Maldives

Indian Foreign Secretary Visits Maldives

The Foreign Secretary (FS) of India, Dr. S. Jaishanka visited the Maldives on April 12 and paid a courtesy call on the President, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. The bilateral relations between the two countries were discussed at a meeting held at the President’s Office. The President expressed sincere appreciation for the continued support and assistance provided by the Government of India. President also expressed his firm commitment to further elevate existing relations through different avenues of cooperation. In this regard, the President noted that commercial relations between the two countries would further enhance economic cooperation and development. Additionally, he expressed confidence in the Foreign Secretary’s visit to the Maldives, which would expedite the implementation of the different areas of cooperation between Maldives and India. The FS’ visit comes at a time when the Maldives is in a chaotic political state with some opposition leaders in prison and others with charges pending against them. The two former Presidents, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed have formed an alliance bringing all opposition leaders together against the government.

Political Crisis Over Removal of Speaker Intensifies

Maldives Opposition parties are set to launch a fresh bid to for removal of the Speaker, weeks after their first attempt failed when the President called in troops to evict lawmakers from the Majlis. A coalition of Opposition parties said it had submitted a no-confidence motion on April 10 with the support of 31 MPs — enough to force a vote in the 85-member Parliament. But after the motion was submitted the government increased the number of signatures required for such a motion to 42, leaving it unclear whether a vote would go ahead. The coalition, led by exiled Opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), is the main force behind this removal attempt. According to Nasheed, taking control of the legislature is crucial to ensuring a free and fair presidential election in 2018.

The coalition has accused the government of making “abrupt and arbitrary changes to the parliamentary standing orders, designed to derail the second no confidence motion submitted against the Speaker”. It is worth noting that, Mohamed Nasheed, currently in self-exile to the UK, arrived in Colombo, Sri Lanka on April 13. MDP has made it public that the ex-President’s visit will be longer this time around as he would be holding discussions with a number of political figures. This is Nasheed’s fourth visit to Colombo since he acquired political asylum in the UK.