The Maldives' lucrative travel industry has insisted tourists arriving on holiday will not be directly affected by the controversial "resignation" of President Mohamed Nasheed amidst escalating violence this week, despite the political uncertainty raging in the capital of Male'
The tenure of the Maldives first democratically elected government came to an end on Tuesday as Mohamed Nasheed stood down as the nation's president, claiming he could only otherwise remain in power by resorting to violence on the back of reports of a mutiny from within the country's police force.
Nasheed's resignation - labelled by supporters and those within the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) he represented as a “coup d'etat” masterminded by elements loyal to the country's political opposition - has raised uncertainty across the nation as President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan took control yesterday. Dr Waheed previously served as vice president during Nasheed's tenure of the Maldives.
Despite several travel warnings issued by countries including the UK against visiting the capital of Male', operators such as Kuoni and several local and multinational resort groups say their Maldives operations have not been adversely affected – with guests still arriving to the often secluded resort properties as planned without trouble.
The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth (FCO) advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island. There were political demonstrations in the capital Malé, which have resulted in violent clashes between government and opposition supporters, and later the police and defence forces. The situation remains uncertain. If you are in Malé, or choose to travel to Malé, you should exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings.”
There are currently no reports of social unrest or demonstrations at Malé International Airport, or at the tourist resorts and other islands, the FCO said, asking tourists to check the situation with travel and tour operators.
Amidst yesterday's upheaval, which saw violent clashes on the streets of Male' in the run up to the president announcing his resignation, concerns have been raised about the safety of foreigners arriving at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, located on the island of Hulhule' just off from Male'.
Kuoni, which is one of the largest European tour operators working in the country, has urged caution for tourists staying in Male' and said it has cancelled all excursions to the capital.
However, the group added that there was no violence or unrest at the country's main airport and guests could still transfer to their resorts safely.
“If you are in Malé, or choose to travel to Malé, you should exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings,” the company said in a statement.
“As the FCO are specifically excluding the airport in this information Kuoni holidays can continue as planned but as a precaution all excursions to Male have been cancelled. All Kuoni customers transiting through the airport and staying on the island resorts are unaffected by this situation and holidays have been continuing as normal.”
Several resort groups have echoed the statement and told Dhonisaurus that their operations have not been adversely affected, with the Six Senses group stating that its guests had no need to travel through the capital and were therefore kept quite separated from what was presently happening there.
“Given resort guests transfer directly to the resorts and don't come near Male, it makes it quite straight forward,” a spokesperson for the company, which operates the Soneva Fushi and Soneva Gili resorts added. “And long may that last!”
Starwood Hotels, which operates properties in the country including W Retreat and the Sheraton Maldives Full Moon Resort and Spa said that it was still receiving guests as planned and was not expecting to make any changes to its operations as a result.
“On February 7th, President Mohamed Nasheed resigned and Vice President Mr. Mohamed Waheed has been sworn in as the President of the Maldives. We wish to assure our business partners, guests and industry colleagues that neither Sheraton Maldives or W Maldives, or any visitors to the island have been affected by these recent events,” the group said. “Please be informed anyone intending to visit the Maldives can be assured their holiday will not be affected in anyway.”
The Baros Maldives resort also said that there had been no changes made to its operations as a result of the change in government.
Following his instatement yesterday, President Waheed spoke to deny that Nasheed's resignation had been a “coup” and praised the “great sacrifices” made by police forces and the military in what he saw as defending the national constitution, claiming that the rule of law would be upheld amidst the uncertainty.
“Today is the day the rule of law has been established in the country perfectly,” Dr Waheed said.
“I will not order the police, military or any person to do anything against the law – I promise it to the public. Everyone will have the protection of constitution and laws.”
However, some members of the international community have expressed concern at developments in the nation, which have escalated since late last year and beyond over opposition criticisms of former President Nasheed's policies relating to the future of the country's mandatory Islamic faith, as well as his attempts to reform its judiciary in line with international standards.
British MP David Amess, in his role as chairman for the All Party Parliamentary Group to the Maldives, said he was shocked upon learning of the “coup d'état in the Maldives resulting in the removal of President Nasheed.”
“When he took office in November 2008, it was as the first democratically elected President of the Maldives ever. He faced enormous challenges in underpinning democratic rule in the Maldives. There can be little doubt that, during his time in office, he worked tirelessly to improve the living conditions and general welfare of the Maldivian people,” he added.
“It is tragic that, 20 months before the next Presidential elections were due; he has been forced from office under duress. During his time as President he had done all he possibly could to promote the Maldives throughout the international community and without any doubt 'stole the show' at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. There is now concern for his safety and that of his family.”
Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, expressed deep concern over the developments in the country that took place yesterday and called for the country to continue in its democratic transition.
“[Ashton] calls on the authorities to guarantee the physical safety and the democratic rights of the people,” stated an official release from the EU. “[The] High Representative calls on all parties in the Maldives to act in accordance with these principles and to engage in an inclusive dialogue. She is willing to support this dialogue in any way that the Maldivian authorities consider useful, in close cooperation with the international community."