Below are excerpts from an interview former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom gave to newspaper Mihaaru about the acrimonious split within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and his decision to withdraw support for his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen’s embattled administration.
On the source of the dispute
The current president is not someone who won individually through his own efforts and represents himself. He represents the PPM’s ideology and principles.
To put it briefly, what is happening now is that even though the president represents the PPM, he is acting against the PPM’s ideology and principles. It has been going on for a long time. This has caused a lot of disquiet within the party as well. And the PPM is being brought into disrepute.
For example, corruption has spread among institutions to an unimaginable level. Nothing was done to stop it. Those involved weren’t punished. And the people are dissatisfied with the state of the judiciary. Trials are being concluded in a manner that raises questions. Confidence in the judiciary has declined very much, because of the outcome of some trials.
Likewise, a number of things contrary to our ideology has happened with the changes brought to the constitution and laws. Freedom of expression and the opportunity to be active in society has been restricted in a manner that narrows democratic space. When it is done like this, in some places it’s called a police state. That is kind of how it has happened. This is not something that the PPM or myself as the president of this party can accept.
The last straw
Most recently, the reason for the problem to worsen was holding symposiums to train campaign leaders. The purpose of those symposiums to prepare people to campaign because the current president will be contesting in 2018. I was invited to open that symposium, signed by the vice president at the time, Ahmed Adeeb.
But I met Adeeb and asked what I should do. First of all, I was not told that the president is seeking a second term. If someone is contesting of behalf of PPM, the party’s president and council should know. But we weren’t informed.
I told [Yameen] at a meeting at the president’s office. He said then, “I haven’t decided [whether to contest].” If the president has the interest I asked him to inform the PPM president in accordance with the party’s statutes. According to the statutes, I have to ensure an equal opportunity [to seek the ticket] for all members.
I wasn’t aware of efforts to give the ticket to the president without a primary. Some people told me about it after signing [a petition urging Gayoom to grant the ticket to Yameen]. Some people signed because they were forced to and due to threats. Some people asked me what they should do before signing. That petition did come to me. But when it did the language was very regrettable.
On opposition to removing former chief justice and amending the constitution
Then-Vice President Adeeb met me and told me about proposing to the parliament through someone to reduce the number of supreme court judges from seven to five. He said there are those with political differences of opinion among the seven judges. And so it isn’t that easy. I said, is that the right thing to do? He said it’s settled and done. Then it was proposed and approved. That’s not a principle I believe. Seven is a good number for the supreme court.
Then we have the amendment brought to the constitution to give the vice presidency to someone. I went to meet the president directly and told him this is very undesirable. [I said] the law shouldn’t be changed for a particular person. When this is done for a particular person it lessens the respect and dignity of the constitution. That the constitution should not be changed even if a common law is changed. The vice presidency is not a post that you have to get through campaigning.
I said this, too. I said that the government will face the blame if [the constitution is amended to impose age limit of 65 for presidential candidates]. For another thing, the amendment to allow foreigners to own Maldivian land was very regrettable. I have never supported that. I don’t think anyone who wishes well for the Maldives would consent to this. I wasn’t aware when this amendment was proposed. I had to read about it in the media. I ran out of options and sent a letter. Because I heard that it could be passed at the sitting on the following day, I thought it could be passed before he reads the letter. So I sent a message and said I will send a letter. Because of the way things were going, I gave it to the newspaper because I had no other choice. [Yameen] was very unhappy about that.
On Yameen’s chances of re-election without Gayoom’s endorsement
I will certainly not support the current president to be elected for a second term in 2018. I don’t know about others who want to become president. Umar Naseer has expressed interest. There are other PPM members who want to contest in the primary. They have told me that they don’t want to reveal their names just yet. Maumoon, keep our names secret. We will say when the day comes. So I don’t want to announce their names for their safety.
God willing, in the next election, I will support a candidate who can bring the country back to the right path. And in the 2019 parliamentary elections, God willing I will support those who I believe will be sincere to the public and the country.
On resolving PPM split
The PPM’s powers were not handed over [to Yameen] through a court order. It was done by the council. So it was in violation of article 57(c) of the statutes. The nation is more important than the party. We will remain with the hope of finding a better way for the nation. There’s a reason we have ‘nation first’ [as our motto]. It’s not because it’s a nice phrase. That is truly our ideology.
On challenging pro-Yameen majority in parliament
There won’t be complete guarantees in any political affair, isn’t it? You have to work towards achieving your goal. You have to have hope. There are lots of MPs who believe what we say. When various bills are proposed in the future, more MPs will make decisions for the benefit of the country.
On backing Gasim for the presidency
When the coalition formed with Gasim in 2013 was dissolved I didn’t maintain relations. I decided to work with Gasim after what happened lately to work with likeminded people because the country is headed in the wrong direction. That wasn’t particularly for the good of PPM or the Jumhooree Party. It was for the good of the people.
On possible contenders in 2018 presidential election
There is time yet. It’s not necessary to see [a candidate] now. There are two years before the election. So we will see [a candidate] yet. There are many who are unhappy with the way the current president is acting. [Candidates] will find the opportunity by themselves. In the political arena, one must seek opportunities for oneself. No one else is going to come and give those opportunities. We have to bear in mind how to secure opportunities through our efforts.
On allegation of dynastic ambition
That is totally false. I haven’t thought of that at all. What I have always said is that my children are able to make their own decisions. They’ve had a good education and some political experience as well. I have not told any of them to do this or do that.
On working with MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party
The MPs who are with me are presently discussing abou various bills and issues with all parties that work for reform.
On new label of opposition leader
I don’t want a particular title. If [Yameen’s faction] they believe that because of what I do they should say it. I am not an opposition leader. I will always prioritise principles of fairness and justice. I will express my views for the sake of the nation.