Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s military bodyguards were prevented from accompanying him on a private visit to India on Wednesday afternoon, shortly after he supported a no-confidence motion against the parliament’s speaker.
Abdul Aleem, secretary-general of Gayoom’s faction of the Progressive Party of Maldives, told the Maldives Independent that the Maldives National Defence Force informed the former president’s secretariat just before Gayoom and his wife left for the airport that the two bodyguards cannot leave with them.
“Bodyguards and the Gayooms check in in advance, so the luggage was already on the flight. They had to delay the flight for an hour to offload,” he said.
The MNDF spokesman declined to comment citing internal policies not to speak to the media regarding security matters.
Aleem said Gayoom boarded the flight with a personal bodyguard, noting that the law on state protection and privileges for former presidents requires the MNDF to provide security for Gayoom.
“The constitution also clearly states security amongst provisions entitled to former presidents. So the military is withholding his rights,” he said.
“I think this is an attempt to put pressure on President Maumoon because President [Abdulla] Yameen sees his popularity among the people and is hoping that such moves will make us step back with our work. President Maumoon will not stop, he will continue.”
Gayoom was flying to Bangalore on a Sri Lankan Airlines flight after a stopover in Colombo.
According to the Gayoom faction, the MNDF claimed that the bodyguards were told to stay back because Gayoom did not make an official request in writing. However, such a request was not previously required and the bodyguards accompanied the former first couple during a recent visit to Malaysia.
The move came shortly after Gayoom declared support for a motion of no-confidence submitted by opposition lawmakers to remove Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
A breakaway faction of the PPM led by Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, joined the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party to seek Maseeh’s removal, posing the first challenge to Yameen’s previously unassailable majority in parliament.
The Yameen faction of the PPM ostensibly controls 45 seats in the 85-member house, along with coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance’s five seats. The MDP has 21 MPs and the JP has seven.
Gayoom told reporters prior to leaving for the airport that many PPM MPs have pledged to support the no-confidence motion.
“You won’t see the MPs now, suddenly. But you will see from the vote that it will get passed with a very good majority,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Mihaaru.
The no-confidence motion will pave the way for restoring fundamental rights, he added.
Gayoom said the parliament is unable to perform its functions and serve the public under Maseeh’s leadership. He accused the speaker of denying the opportunity for lawmakers to properly debate and review legislation.
Asked if his departure after the motion was submitted was prompted by fears of retribution from the government, Gayoom said that he fears “no one by Allah” but suggested that the possibility of his arrest could not be discounted.
The trip was arranged due to his sister-in-law’s illness, he added.
Last month, a Malé city councillor accused the police of threatening to keep him under custody unless he gave a statement that could be used as a pretext to arrest Gayoom.
After losing a bitter power struggle with Yameen for control of the ruling party, Gayoom had withdrawn support for his half-brother’s administration in late October.
A few days later, the MNDF downgraded protection for the former president, removing the emergency response car in Gayoom’s motorcade.
In mid-October, soon after the civil court stripped Gayoom of his powers as elected leader of the PPM and handed the party’s reins to Yameen, the finance ministry set new rules scaling back financial perks for former presidents.
However, Gayoom has remained defiant, issuing regular statements criticising the government’s policies and accusing Yameen of governing against the principles and ideology set out in the PPM’s 2013 election manifesto.
The bid to remove Maseeh was first announced in late October after eight MPs loyal to Gayoom formed a rival bloc to work with the opposition.
But four lawmakers have since returned to Yameen’s faction amid allegations of government pressure on their business interests. The remaining four are MPs Faris, Mohamed Musthafa, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim from the PPM and Hussain Areef from the MDA.