Former presidents, party leaders unite to ‘restore democracy’

Former presidents, party leaders unite to ‘restore democracy’
March 25 16:13 2017

Former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed along with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla signed a historic declaration Friday to work together to restore democracy in the Maldives.

The four political heavyweights resolved to “protect ownership of the land, sea and natural resources”, “find a resolution to the political discord afflicting the country”, “safeguard civil and political rights abrogated from citizens”, and “ensure elections held in the Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political parties choosing are allowed to contest.”

The parties will also work together to “secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial, or convicted of politically motivated charges”, “prevent corruption and embezzlement within the government”, and “seek the restitution of transactions and properties unlawfully seized from citizens by the government”.

Gayoom said in a tweet Friday night that he signed the agreement “with the good intention of reforming the country”.

“We’ve relentlessly worked to find common ground. This agreement will allow us to steer the country onto democratic path,” tweeted Nasheed, who lives in exile in England and arrived in Sri Lanka last week.

“When division, mistrust and competitive politics are cast aside, and political parties of differing ideologies decide to work together, we understand the dire situation facing the country,” Sheikh Imran, who has been under house arrest since April last year, was quoted as saying in a joint statement.

The formal agreement comes ahead of a crucial vote on Monday for impeaching the speaker of parliament, a push by the new opposition alliance to challenge President Abdulla Yameen’s previously comfortable parliamentary majority.

Both sides have expressed confidence of victory. Along with five seats held by coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance, Yameen’s faction of the Progressive Party of Maldives ostensibly controls 45 seats in the 85-member house.

In a show of strength on Saturday afternoon, the PPM-MDA joint parliamentary group called a press conference with 41 MPs in attendance, one short of the simple majority required to defeat the motion.

Photo from social media

Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan said some ruling party lawmakers are out of Malé and one could not attend due to medical reasons. Aside from a few MPs who have openly sided with Gayoom in the PPM’s leadership dispute, Nihan said the rest will join the vote on Monday to defend Maseeh.

Each lawmaker individually pledged allegiance to Yameen and Maseeh and lambasted the opposition, with many stressing that they do not want to obstruct infrastructure development projects underway in their constituencies.

The ruling coalition’s leadership dismissed the no-confidence motion as a futile attempt to “pester” the government and declared that the motion will be easily defeated by a large majority.

But Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, who is leading a breakaway bloc of the ruling party, has previously maintained that several PPM MPs will abandon Yameen to form a new majority, a realignment that would allow the new alliance to undo several legal changes and repeal controversial constitutional amendments.

The MDP has 21 MPs, the JP has seven, and MP Anara Naeem is the sole Adhaalath Party MP.

MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the MDP’s parliamentary group leader, also told the press Friday night that enough votes have been secured to impeach Maseeh.

“None of the MPs who have supported this with us have changed their minds so far. We have full confidence that we will make up the numbers,” the minority leader said at a press conference held to announce the opposition leaders’ declaration.

The executive councils of the MDP, JP, and Adhaalath have endorsed the pact. A council of Gayoom’s faction of the PPM also authorised him to sign as the party’s elected leader.

After the tax authority froze the accounts of Gasim’s Villa Shipping and Trading Company on Wednesday, the JP also issued a three-line whip to vote in favour of removing Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.

Speaking at the first joint rally of the new opposition alliance at the JP’s headquarters Friday night – redecorated with the colours of the four parties – Gasim said he would never support Yameen again even if he were “hung upside down, cut to pieces and fed to crows”.

In a previous rally, Gasim had repeated his call for JP and MDP lawmakers who switched to the PPM to return.

He suggested that separation of powers and the proper functioning of oversight commissions, courts and independent bodies such as the audit office and tax authority could be assured when the “balance of power” is restored in parliament as an effective check to limit the executive’s unchallenged authority.

On Wednesday, Yameen meanwhile called Maseeh “a sacrificial lamb” to the political ambitions of former presidents.

The no-confidence vote is driven by “jealousy” of the government’s achievements and popularity among a majority of the public, he contended.

“All these different ideologies have found common ground for one thing, that is ‘we don’t like this president’s rule, so let’s all work together to bring an end to this government, after that we’ll fight to decide who’ll come to power among us,'” he said.

“Let me tell you, they can’t fight and show one [candidate]. Aren’t there too many people who want the position? So it can’t be done.”

Friday’s declaration meanwhile brings an end to months of speculation about an alliance between the former presidents and archrivals, which Nasheed previously said would create “a new political alignment”.

Nasheed, a former dissident journalist and writer, was jailed multiple times during Gayoom’s 30-year reign and went on to defeat him in the country’s first multi-party elections in 2008.

Gayoom played an important role in opposition to Nasheed’s three-year administration and campaigned throughout the country to ensure Yameen’s narrow victory in 2013.

The new alliance is also reminiscent of broad coalitions that united to defeat Gayoom and Nasheed, respectively, in 2008 and 2013.