First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim launched President Abdulla Yameen’s 2018 re-election campaign on Friday night with a gathering in Hulhumalé dubbed Feshun (Beginning).
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, spokesman for the first lady’s campaign office, told the press last week that the event will mark the start of a series of nationwide campaign activities, stressing that it will be organised and carried out by the first lady’s office and not the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
Yameen did not attend the event held at the state-owned Maldives Ports Limited area in the capital’s suburb, which featured speeches by ministers and ruling party lawmakers as well as song and dance items and a barbeque for supporters.
The first lady’s “exemplary” social and political work was singled out for praise by all the speakers.
“We have had many first ladies in the past. But we have never seen in our history a first lady as diligent, hardworking, and compassionate as ours who meets with the people and works closely with them to seek solutions to their concerns,” said MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla.
MP Ibrahim Falah said the first lady was able to draw a large crowd to the event with just two hours of work.
MP Riyaz Rasheed, the deputy leader of the PPM’s parliamentary group, said the first lady’s prominent role in the 2013 presidential campaign was key to Yameen’s victory.
MP Ahmed Nihan said having a wife like Fathmath Ibrahim should be “a condition” for presidential candidates in 2023.
At Friday night’s event, the first lady, known as Madam Fathun, accepted membership forms from 260 young men and women who joined the PPM.
The first lady’s office previously conducted a series of symposiums to train “campaign leaders” from across the country. Two symposiums were held in late 2015 for campaign workers from the north and south whilst a third round took place last April with more than 400 supporters from the capital and its suburbs.
The first lady’s campaign office was also an issue of contention in the leadership dispute that split the PPM into rival factions last year.
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had snubbed invitations to inaugurate the symposiums, had objected to her office “accepting membership forms, creating branches, and issuing instructions to branches.”
Gayoom, who was controversially stripped of his powers as the PPM’s elected leader, has since withdrawn support for his half-brother’s administration. The PPM split was triggered by Gayoom’s refusal to grant Yameen the party’s ticket without a presidential primary.
The activities of the first lady’s charity organisation have also stirred controversy. She previously came under fire for distributing cash during visits with the chronically ill at the hospital and visits to households in Malé. Last week, the anti-graft watchdog ruled out corruption in the distribution of dates gifted by Saudi Arabia under the name of the first lady’s charity.
Majority Leader Nihan meanwhile went on to express confidence that Yameen will easily win the 2018 election in one round, claiming that many opposition party members have assured him that they would also vote for the president.
“Tonight we have started the work of winning the election for him,” he said.
MP Abdul Raheem said all Maldivians who wish well for the nation are obliged to give Yameen a second term based on the “revolutionary changes” he has brought about during the past three years.
Neighbouring countries are envious of the pace of economic growth in the Maldives as well as the rapid development of the health sector, he said, adding that one or two development projects are ongoing on all inhabited islands.
Yameen has been accused of jailing opposition leaders and rival contenders ahead of the 2018 polls, including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, both of whom are ineligible to contest after the supreme court upheld their controversial terrorism convictions.
With Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim disqualified after the constitution was revised to set an upper age limit for the presidency, former Home Minister Umar Naseer is the only high-profile politician who has announced his intention to challenge Yameen in 2018.
The next presidential election is likely to take place in September 2018.