Exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed’s presidential ambitions are futile because he is legally barred from contesting in the 2018 polls, President Abdulla Yameen said Wednesday, urging opposition supporters to seek a new leader.
Speaking at a function held to welcome 700 new members from Addu City to the ruling party, Yameen heavily criticised the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, likening its members to “a flock of ducklings” unable to act independently without the “mother duck”.
“What we’re seeing from our opposition party is a ritual circling around just one person. They’re circling around just one centre, one person, but there is no end, middle, or hope in this at all,” he said, in a veiled reference to Nasheed, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom after he was found guilty of terrorism.
“I don’t understand at all how this can be done given the laws of the Maldives. So the party has to untie itself from its mother’s apron strings. The party has to believe that it can create other leaders.”
Nasheed is currently ineligible to contest in 2018 as he was sentenced to 13 years in prison in early 2015. The supreme court later upheld his conviction on the controversial charge, which related to the arrest of a judge during his tenure, disqualifying him from becoming a presidential candidate.
The 49-year-old was granted asylum by the British government last May after he was authorised to seek medical treatment there amidst mounting foreign pressure.
Yameen’s remarks came after Nasheed travelled to Sri Lanka in late January to meet with the MDP’s leadership, after which he declared his intention to seek the party’s presidential ticket.
Asked about the president’s criticism at a press conference in Colombo on Thursday morning, Nasheed noted that his candidacy in both 2008 and 2013 was secured at the “eleventh hour” due to legal hurdles, expressing confidence that he would be able to challenge Yameen in 2018.
“To secure that opportunity, we will seek the assistance of international actors as well as Maldivian institutions,” he said, adding that it is “embarrassing” for Yameen to use “legal excuses” to avoid competition and declaring that he would easily win in a free and fair election.
If the elections commission refuses to accept his candidacy, Nasheed said the MDP’s stance is to support a candidate from another party or the united opposition in lieu of fielding a different MDP candidate.
On Yameen’s contention that the MDP revolves around him, Nasheed said: “It’s not my fault that people support me. It’s very sad that people don’t support President Yameen, even from his own party.”
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives was split into rival factions led by Yameen and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom last year in the wake of a bitter leadership dispute that saw the civil court strip the latter of authority as the party’s elected leader.
But Gayoom has remained defiant despite losing the battle for control of the PPM to his half-brother, withdrawing support for the government and accusing the Yameen administration of authoritarianism and corruption.
In his speech, Yameen went on to say that compromise is necessary to move forward but insisted that he would not “abandon my principles” despite criticism over the jailing of opposition leaders or the threat of sanctions.
The president reiterated his stance that politicians were convicted by an independent judiciary free of influence from the executive branch.
However, a UN rights panel ruled that the jailing of both Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim – who had also declared his intention to run for president – was arbitrary and politically motivated.