While Indian media speculates on the possibility of Prime Minister Narendra Modi participating in the swearing-in ceremony of Maldives’ new President, Mohamed Muizzu, certain protocol matters may need to be addressed by the host. This applies not only to Prime Minister Modi but also to other Heads of State and/or Government who may have been expected at the Muizzu Inauguration on Friday, 17 November.
The reasons are not far to seek. Clarifying the position on the Indian media reports, the President-elect’s official spokesman clarified that the inaugural invitation to nations were addressed to the respective Governments, not to anyone holding any specific office. As such, it was for those Governments to decide on the level of representation (and inform the Maldivian authorities, accordingly), he said.
This implies that there is no personal invitation extended to President Draupadi Murmu as the Head of State, Prime Minister Modi as the Head of Government, or External Affairs Minister (EAM) S Jaishankar. Consequently, the decision regarding the level of representation falls upon New Delhi. In the ordinary course of events, this could involve either the EAM, a Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), or Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra depending on various factors. There is, of course, ample time for the Government of India (GoI) to make this decision and several factors must be taken into consideration before arriving at a final determination.
In 2018, the Indian prime minister was the only foreign dignitary to be invited for the swearing-in ceremony of President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, whom Muizzu is replacing now. Modi thus became the only foreign dignitary to attend the celebrations in the Maldivian capital of Male. The President-elect’s team at the time made no bones about the fact that the Indian leader was the only one to be invited and was possibly welcome at the time. It made a difference, not only in matters of future relations between the two countries but also to matters of protocol and other formalities.
Before the Solih inauguration, former vice-president Hamid Ansari represented India at the swearing-in of Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed (2008), the first president to be elected under the new, multi-party democracy scheme and Constitution. His immediate successor, Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik was sworn in, in a hurry after Nasheed’s famous/infamous resignation on 7 February 2012. This was followed by the inauguration of Abdulla Yameen in 2013, when the Supreme Court’s intervention in the polling process, left little time for preparations for a grand swearing-in ceremony. Owing to the court ordering a re-poll and the like, the date for the swearing-in too was shifted from the customary 11 November — the nation’s Republic Day since 1968 — to 17 November. It stays thus.
In the normal course, Heads of State and/or Government or even foreign ministers do not visit other nations without proper, personal invitations. In most cases, even in formal events as the inauguration of a new Head of State/Government, the visit is accompanied by separate formal/informal discussions between the new leader and the visitor(s). This happened when Prime Minister Modi invited SAARC Heads of Government for his first swearing-in ceremony in 2014. He also conferred with the visiting leaders, individually.
What the protocol says
Only in the case of the funeral of a departed leader of a nation does the participant-nation decides on the level of representation, depending on precedent, current and/or continuing strength of bilateral relations, the chemistry between the two leaders, certain geo-strategic concerns and calculations, etc.
The Muizzu inauguration does not fall into this bracket. Hence, a formal invitation addressed to Prime Minister Modi by name alone would suffice in terms of protocol. As on occasions in the past, whether with regard to Maldives or another nation, such a formal invite may or may not be accompanied by a personal telephonic invitation by either the President-elect, or anyone high-up in his team or incumbent Government as the case may be.
What holds true for India should apply to all other nations invited to Muizzu’s swearing-in ceremony. The larger a nation’s power, the greater its national pride and ego, often resulting in a more formal approach. The presence of a high-ranking official, be it a King or Prince, President or Prime Minister from another country at Muizzu’s inauguration might imply that they are not necessarily significant players in the regional or international arena. Alternatively, it could mean that their leaders received personal invitations, exempting them from the general rules observed by Muizzu’s camp for other nations and leaders.
As is known, much water has flowed through the Indian Ocean connecting India and Maldives, in recent years. The ocean does not divide and distance the two nations as someone may think and act wishfully. It connects. Yet, there is no denying the existence of inherited strains between the new leadership in Maldives and the Indian neighbour. Those strains did not exist in the case of India, so to say, and were inherited by President-elect Muizzu from his parent political party, identified with jailed former president Abdulla Yameen.
Through his poll campaign and in the past week as President-elect, Muizzu has drawn a clear distinction between Yameen’s ‘India Out’ campaign and ‘India Out’ campaign. It suited Yameen to play on both as he was otherwise convinced of the pull of India for most Maldivians including his staunch cadres of years. They are alive to the continued assistance India as the larger neighbour and the largest nation in the region has been extending their archipelago-nation, which nature has not bestowed with economic resources barring its seas and beaches, which in turn support tourism as the mainstay of Maldivian economy over the past five decades.
However, through the presidential campaign and also post-poll, Muizzu has personally been reiterating Yameen’s demand for the withdrawal of Indian military personnel from Maldives. He also discussed it with Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar at their first meeting after his election and has been mentioning it in all his media interviews since.
Only as coincidence would have it, the Maldivian High Court has now held as unlawful the Solih government’s decision not to share the number of Indian soldiers in the country when sought under the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Ruling on a matter pending for some months, the high court also found fault with the approach of the Information Commissioner in the matter. Muizzu’s transition spokesman also asked why the outgoing dispensation held back the information.
As may be recalled, India has always held that the Indian soldiers were in Maldives were not on combat duty and hence did not carry weapons. Instead, they were to pilot and maintain the three India-donated flying machines (two helicopters and one fixed-wing Dornier) on humanitarian missions and helping to track huge drug-smuggling through the open seas through aerial reconnaissance. Both India and Maldives have confirmed that the Indian technical team operates under the exclusive command of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). There has not been a singular instance when the Indian pilots took off on their charge without the MNDF requisitioning their services for specified purposes.
Incidentally, Muizzu has also continued to insist that barring the issue pertaining to the withdrawal of Indian military personnel, other aspects of bilateral ties would remain (as strong as under the outgoing leadership of President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih). During campaign-time, he indicated a desire to review long-pending projects (funded by India?) to fast-track them, but without clarifying if he would be looking at change of international partners (say, China). India’ Exim Bank has now clarified that the projects would go on independent of the change of Government in Maldives. Incidentally, Team Muizzu has since claimed credit for obtaining $1.2 billion credit from Abu Dhabi for completing pending works in the Male international airport during his private visit this week.
In between a constitutional situation was brewing, threatening to delay Muizzu’s swearing-in ceremony. However, a five-judge Bench of the Supreme Court unanimously cleared the decks on Thursday, 9 November, when it ruled that the Constitution was supreme compared to Parliamentary Rules, which prohibited the House taking up other matters, pending a vote on the no-trust motion against Speaker Mohammed Nasheed.
The Supreme Court intervened when the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of outgoing President Solih sought a direction for Parliament to vote on their no-trust vote against Nasheed, to check against hiccups to Muizzu’s inauguration. The court ruled that Parliament cannot cite House procedures to thwart national duties like a President’s swearing-in, mandatory clearance for his Cabinet members and the passage of the annual budget. On the specific issue of holding the no-trust vote without Deputy Speaker Eva Abdulla, a cousin and party-colleague of Nasheed in the newly-founded Democrats party, the court ruled that the House could conduct the session from the Speaker’s Panel of Chairman (possibly if Eva continued to stay away).
After the Supreme Court ruling, the Parliament Secretariat which had stuck to the queer argument that there could be no session without the Deputy Speaker has since scheduled the no-trust vote for Sunday, 12 November. However, Nasheed has messaged that he would still thwart the vote, without saying why and how. The MDP, which holds a majority in the 87-member House is now said to be seeking legal recourse after Nasheed said that he would ensure that none of the party leader is able to travel abroad. Nasheed’s declaration followed a reported missive from an MDP parliamentarian to an international forum that had invited Nasheed to preside over a democracy conclave in the Gulf, citing what the party called as his undemocratic and anti-democratic acts nearer home.
In the incoming ruling camp, meanwhile, the differences between President-elect Muizzu and his political mentor Yameen are showing in multiple ways and occasions. A PhD-holder in structural engineering, Muizzu was Works and Housing Minister in the Yameen presidency (2013-18), and both are straining to keep their PPM-PNC alliance intact, despite the President-elect’s seeming propensity to distance himself from the other’s clout as much and as early as possible.
This was visible when the People’s National Congress (PNC), whose presidential candidate Muizzu unilaterally became against purported reservations/opposition from Yameen-in-jail, recently began signing up new members. Yameen had founded the PNC post-haste, fearing the loss of the mainstay Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), founded by half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after losing the presidency in Elections-2018.
The courts ruled the PPM case in Yameen’s favour but he did not dissolve the PNC. Instead, the PNC has elected members in the outgoing House, and Muizzu’s efforts to strengthen the PNC seems to be aimed at signing up the mandatory minimum of 10,000 members, for obtaining State funding to face the parliamentary elections, due in April 2024. However, Yameen has told his PPM members that there was no need to join the PNC (implying that both are one and the same, as used to be and he was still the boss for both).
On a long-pending appeal from Yameen, the high court ruled this week that he need not pay up a fine of $5 million, pending the final disposal of his appeal against the 11-year jail-term awarded to him in a money-laundering case, preferred by the Solih government. Pending the appeal case, Yameen was transferred to house-arrest from imprisonment in Maafushi Prison Island, that too at the instance of President-elect Muizzu, but the Maldivian Correction Services warned Yameen not to venture out, meet or address supporters as he was wont to do from the second week of his transfer to house-arrest.
Source : First Post