MALE, Maldives – The attorney general of the Maldives warned the country's Supreme Court on Sunday that a move to unseat the president would be unconstitutional, amid a political crisis that has left the government in chaos since late last week.
Attorney General Mohamed Anil said at a news conference that he had heard "rumors that the Supreme Court is going to order the impeachment of the president."
He said that the president can be ousted only through a vote in parliament, and that police and security forces would not obey an impeachment order from an "illegitimate set of people."
Mohammed Nasheed, the Indian Ocean archipelago's exiled former president and the main rival to current President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, responded angrily on Twitter, saying that comments from Anil and other officials were "tantamount to a coup."
"Security services must uphold the constitution and serve the Maldivian people," Nasheed tweeted.
Under Maldivian law, a vote for impeachment removes a president from office.
The crisis, which has included repeated rounds of clashes between police and opposition protesters, began when the Supreme Court ruled that all politicians opposed to Yameen, including Nasheed, be released.
Nasheed has been living in exile in Britain since 2016 after being given asylum when he traveled there on medical leave from prison.
In addition to ordering the release of the political prisoners, the court also reinstated 12 lawmakers who had been ousted for switching allegiance to the opposition. When those lawmakers return, Yameen's Progressive Party of the Maldives will lose its majority in the 85-member parliament, which can result in the legislative body functioning as a rival power to the president.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Thursday's Supreme Court order, Yameen said Saturday that he did not expect the court ruling, but that all relevant authorities of the state need to do "a lot of work to see how to implement it."
"We are working on making sure we can respect the Supreme Court order in a way that doesn't cause any difficulties to the people," he said at a rally in his support organized by his party
He also said that he is ready to hold early presidential election if the opposition wants to test who is popular among the people.
Known for its luxury tourist resorts, the Maldives became a multiparty democracy 10 years ago after decades of autocratic rule by the current president's half brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
But the nation lost much of its democratic gains after Yameen was elected in 2013. He has maintained a tight grip on power, controlling institutions such as the judiciary and the police.
Yameen had been set to run for re-election this year virtually unopposed, with all of his opponents either jailed or exiled.
On Friday, Nasheed, whose conviction for abducting a judge was overturned by the Supreme Court order, said he would mount a fresh challenge for the presidency this year.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison after he was convicted of the abduction charge under the Maldives' anti-terror laws in a trial that was widely condemned by international rights groups.