To highlight the risks of global warming , Nasheed held the world's first underwater cabinet meeting in 2009 [EPA]

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of Maldives, was best known as a passionate advocate of climate change, going as far as holding the world's first underwater cabinet meeting to highlight the cause.

After a three decade rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom Gayoom, Nasheed, a former political prisoner, was sworn in on November 11, 2008. Gayoom held office for six consecutive terms in elections in which he was the only candidate.

A journalist by profession, Nasheed was repeatedly arrested during the 1990s for speaking against the government, particularly for alleging election rigging in the 1989 general elections. Amnesty International listed him as a “prisoner of conscience”.

In 2003, Nasheed left Maldives and established the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in exile in Sri Lanka and the UK.
After his return in 2005, Nasheed promoted the MDP across the country, which was officially recognised in June that year when the government decided to allow political parties.

In the country’s first multi-party elections in October 2008, Nasheed’s MDP received 24 per cent of the votes and Gayoom’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) received 40 per cent, forcing the vote into a second round.

Nasheed was elected president with over 53 per cent of the votes in the second round.

With Maldives threatened by rising sea levels due to global warming, Nasheed pleged to lead the fight by making his country carbon-neutral within 10 years. For his environmental work, Nasheed received multiple awards, including “Champions of the Earth,” the UN’s most prestigious  environmental award. In 2009, Time magazine named him as a leading leader and visionary in its list of “Heroes of the Enviornment”.

Political turmoil

But his government's progress was impeded by opposition in the parliament, who often blocked Nasheed’s legislation. In June 2010, 13 members of his cabinet resigned, citing the behaviour of opposition MPs, claiming they had bribed other MPs for halting government work.

In January 2012, anti-government protests started after Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the top criminal court judge, whom he accused of being in the pocket of Gayoom, the former president.

That set off a constitutional crisis and opened Nasheed, widely credited with ushering in democracy, to accusations of acting like a dictator.

On February 7, after two weeks of protests that also saw police officers joining in, Nasheed announced his resignation in a nationwide broadcast.

"It will be better for the country in the current situation if I resign. I don't want to run the country with an iron fist. I am resigning," Nasheed said.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies