Hours after condemning President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged harassment of his political opponents, two ruling party lawmakers who were part of a breakaway faction loyal to his estranged half-brother have abruptly reversed their stand and renewed their support for the president.
MPs Ahmed ‘Red Wave’ Saleem and Ibrahim Shujau, the spokesman for former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the divided ruling party, returned to Yameen’s fold on Wednesday.
“I am with Yameen,” Saleem told reporters.
The U-turn follows a state-owned company letter threatening to seize a plot of land leased to Saleem’s grocery chain, of which Shujau is a manager, and throws a wrench into the Gayoom faction’s plans to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh and remove Yameen loyalist from the judicial watchdog.
The parliamentary group of the Gayoom faction, formed with the support eight MPs, is now down to five. Yameen, 57, appears to have won the civil war roiling the Progressive Party of the Maldives, outmanoeuvring his 78-year-old half-brother at every turn.
In a show of strength on Thursday, the president held a ceremony attended by Saleem and Shujau to accept some 600 new members, where he branded the attempt at splitting the ruling party’s parliamentary group and destabilising its majority as an act of treason.
The Yameen faction appears to command the support of some 50 MPs in the 85-member house.
Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon described Saleem and Shujau’s defection as “a loss” in a Twitter post.
Several others who threw their support behind Gayoom have also come under pressure. The government has re-launched a bid to take back several properties leased to tourism tycoon and leader of the Jumhooree Party, Gasim Ibrahim, days after he publicly backed the former president.
Saleem’s reversal in stance followed defiant remarks on Tuesday as well as an impassioned plea that urged the government to protect private businesses and “not get personal”.
“By the grace of god, I am not concerned about wealth or property. It is given and taken by Allah. I don’t have any worries whether they take this place from me or not,” Saleem told reporters, referring to a letter by the state owned Housing Development Corporation, which threatened to seize a plot leased for a café, a shop and a warehouse in Hulhumalé if the Red Wave Group failed to open a café there by November 9.
Saleem called the move unjust, and warned others of the same fate.
“If I face this injustice, there will be many more too. More people will face the same injustice in the future. So I want to tell the government, if they are to do things in this way, the next government that comes to power would also destroy the businesses of all the people [in Yameen’s government]. If this system is to go on, where is the stability for this country?” he said.
Then on Wednesday morning, Saleem, flanked by Shujau, who also manages his grocery chain, and Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer and Finance Minister Ahmed Munawwar said he reversed his stand to respect the wishes of his constituents in the island of Eydhafushi in Baa Atoll.
“We had some concerns earlier. But we now believe we can find a solution to those concerns through dialogue. Now we no longer have those concerns,” Saleem said. “The people of Eydhafushi do not accept my decision. Some 90percent of my constituents want me to work with President Yameen.”
In 2011, during President Mohamed Nasheed’s tenure, Saleem had defected from the PPM to the then-ruling coalition after he was charged in a major case of corruption. He returned to the PPM when Nasheed was ousted, and was later acquitted.
Later in the day, Yameen described divisions within the parliamentary group to be the “biggest damage to the government,” he said.
Urging MPs to vote for the state budget, which is currently before parliament, Yameen said: “What will happen if MPs refuse to vote for the budget? What will happen if the budget is not passed? Who loses? The president will continue to run the party. Employees will continue to receive their salaries. But development projects in the islands will come to a stop. It is the public that loses, not the president.”
Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan meanwhile predicted that the no-confidence motion against the speaker would fail, and went on to accuse Gayoom and Gasim of orchestrating the “dangerous plot”.
“The man organising the no-confidence motion against the speaker is our party president. I say this with great sadness. The other is Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim. Together, these two have been encouraging MDP MPs and are trying to get the required number,” he said.
“I want to note that their actions are of no benefit to the Maldivian state or nation,” he added.