Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives, has called on tourists visiting the Indian Ocean island nation to “be more aware” of its political problems.
Nasheed, a veteran human rights activist and environmental campaigner, was forced to resign in February in what he says was a coup. Nasheed had been in power since 2008, when elections ended the 30-year rule of the autocratic Abdul Mamoun Gayoom.
A million tourists, more than half from Europe, are expected to visit the luxury destination this year, slightly more than last year. Tourism officially accounts for 30% of the Maldives’ $2.1bn (£1.3bn) economy, while unofficial estimates say the proportion could be much higher.
Almost all tourists transfer directly to their resorts, mostly situated on uninhabited islands that are exempt from strict laws prohibiting alcohol in the Muslim state, which they do not leave for the duration of their stay.
“Tourists should be more aware of what is going on here. They may think they are remote from Male [the capital] but many of the staff are from here,” said Nasheed, who was described by David Cameron last November as his “new best mate”.
Nasheed, 45, has been critical of the international community’s reaction to his ousting in February following weeks of street protests by opposition parties. He will face trial next month for ordering the detention of a senior judge while president. His supporters claim the trial is politically motivated and aimed at preventing Nasheed standing in presidential polls scheduled to be held next year.
“They will fix it one way or another. The whole idea is to bar me from contesting and that is what they are working at,” Nasheed told the Guardian. Senior government officials in the administration of President Waheed Hassan, who took over from Nasheed, said the trial was “open and transparent”. “The government has no role in the whole process,” said Hassan Saeed, the president’s special adviser.
Mohamed Jameel, minister of home affairs, said the charge of abducting a sitting judge was “not political” but “a criminal offence”.
Government officials also contest Nasheed’s claims that he was ousted by force in a coup d’etat. “The situation was of his own making. He violated the constitution and resigned voluntarily,” Saeed said.
A Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry decided the events in February did not constitute a coup. Regional powers along with diplomats in Europe and the US are watching the situation closely.
London and Washington have made clear their regard for Nasheed, who passed a series of economic reforms and sought to counter tendencies in the Sunni Muslim country towards a more conservative form of Islam often mixed with strong anti-western sentiments.
Indian diplomats are concerned by the possibility that their neighbours China and Pakistan could exploit the situation to increase their influence in the strategically situated islands.
A massive budget deficit has undermined the country’s public finances and seriously weakened its currency. However, economic measures introduced by Nasheed’s government under pressure from the International Monetary Fund, such as new sales taxes, angered some of the business community and contributed to his fall from power, analysts say.
However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic party (MDP) remains popular, particularly among the young and in urban areas, and is still the largest political organisation by some margin.
“Nasheed still has a very good base of support. It is difficult to predict who would win an election,” said Moosa Latheef, the editor of the Male-based Haveeru Daily newspaper. Presidential polls are likely to be held in late summer 2013, after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, officials say.