Maldives Independent is publishing a series of profiles on political leaders in the Maldives ahead of the presidential elections this year. This is part one of the series.
Abdulla Yameen is difficult to love, yet he has managed to stay in power.
Often hailed as a macho president by his supporters, he rose to the top in 2013 following controversial Supreme Court elections delays and with the aid of his half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Despite this backing, he now stands alone after a fall-out with Gayoom.
Yameen is known for prioritising concrete infrastructure over human development and environmental sustainability. His government even explored for oil in the island archipelago in an attempt to secure the economy. With a vision of making the Maldives like Singapore, a bridge is being built at the expense of a surf break, and an airport project have led to the destruction of the country’s largest white clay mangrove. He currently enjoys the favour of Saudi Arabia and China.
Under Yameen the Maldives has experienced eroding freedoms with the restriction of civil and political rights. Civil servants are forced to attend his rallies and join the ruling PPM party or lose their jobs. He curbs dissent with heavy-handed force and also intimidates reporters under a defamation law.
He is praised by supporters for taking action against those who challenge him regardless of who they are. He has jailed all opposition leaders, impeached one vice president, and charged the replacement with treason over an assassination attempt. When the Maldives’ biggest-ever corruption scandal came to light, he pinned the blame on his former right-hand man.
His government has also been accused of compliance or cover-up in high-profile cases of abduction and murder and he is resolute in his decision to implement the death penalty on his watch. He has forged closer ties with Malaysia’s Nazjib Razak, who has been embroiled in a massive corruption scandal himself.
Yameen started his re-election campaign without party primaries and before the Elections Commission had started the electoral process.
This article has been updated.