Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom publicly withdrew support for his half-brother and incumbent president, Abdulla Yameen, on Thursday following a standoff between his supporters and riot police at the ruling party headquarters.
Riot police had blocked all roads leading to the Progressive Party of the Maldives’ offices, where Gayoom had planned a rally to mark the party’s fifth anniversary, amid a bitter struggle for influence at the party’s top leadership.
Gayoom’s supporters were denied access to the office, prompting the 78-year-old, who remains the head of the PPM, to change the rally’s venue, where he publicly accused his brother of cracking down on dissent and condemned, for the first time, the jailing of opposition leaders under Yameen’s three-year rule.
“I have decided to withdraw my support for this government from this moment on, and I will not support this government in the future,” he declared to a handful of party officials and the press.
The announcement brings the slow-rolling crisis, prompted in June by Gayoom’s refusal to endorse Yameen for the 2018 polls, to a decisive turning point.
Yameen, howevere, appears to have outmaneuvered the former strongman, by winning supreme court support for a lower court ruling that had handed him control of the PPM earlier this month. The housing ministry has meanwhile refused to lease public space for Gayoom’s rally; at one point, it reversed a decision to rent a meeting hall after the Gayoom-faction paid for it, and is reportedly yet to return the money.
Gayoom, without naming his brother, spoke at length on Thursday of authoritarian reversals, destruction of the separation of powers and economic mismanagement.
“Political space has narrowed to the extent that we are no longer able to breathe,” he said. “Maldivian democracy is broken… This is not what we want. We want to live freely.” He then appealed to other political parties to team up with him, “in defence of democracy, and the constitution and the citizens.”
“If not, the Maldives will be plunged into a bottomless pit,” he warned.
Listing Yameen’s alleged violations of the party’s charter, Gayoom went on to make an impassioned plea for reform.
“The political landscape in the Maldives looks different. The democratic principles enshrined in our constitution are not gaining a foothold. For example, the space for political parties to operate in the country is getting narrower and narrower by the day. The leaders of political parties are facing serious issues; some are in jail or under some other form of detention,” he said
“The three powers are no longer independent of the other. They have merged into one. We do not know who is running it all, but all three speak in the same voice. While our country has nearly four hundred thousand people, and several parties, and numerous people in different posts, we do not hear any of their voices. We are forced to obey one person.”
“No one is being held accountable,” he lamented. “Eliminating corruption is among the party’s goals. But let us ask ourselves, is corruption decreasing? Is it getting eliminated? Is anything being done on this? No.”
“The biggest corruption scandal in the country’s history – the MMPRC corruption, when more than MVR 1.2billion was embezzled, the relevant authorities say they had no idea this happened,” he said referring to Yameen’s claim he was not aware of the theft of nearly US$80million from a state-owned tourism firm.
Gayoom added: “What is even more concerning is that when leaders of institutions are removed over allegations of corruption, a week later, these persons are appointed to a higher post elsewhere.”
The Maldives’ debt is increasing every day, he went on, alleging foreign interference in domestic affairs, and said ordinary people are stripped of opportunities by those with power and influence.
Reiterating criticism against laws passed by the PPM-dominated parliament, including one re-criminalising defamation and a constitutional amendment that permits foreign freeholds in the Maldives for the first time, he said: “This current government no longer runs on the party’s values.
“Since I am the elected leader of the party, I have to bear some responsibility. So I have decided to withdraw my support I have given to this government from this moment. I will not, my conscience does not believe that I should bear any responsibility for what is happening.”