The opposition should unite behind a single candidate to challenge President Abdulla Yameen in the 2018 presidential election, exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed has said.
The opposition leader told AFP during a visit to the United States that he is hoping to form an alliance with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has withdrawn support for the government after losing a bitter struggle with Yameen for control of the ruling party.
“We are still working on it. What we would really like to see is a free and fair election – not necessarily changing the government now,” he said.
“I don’t think we will have a free and fair election as things stand now. So we will have to have the whole opposition together and come out with a single candidate.”
Nasheed is currently ineligible to contest in 2018 as he was sentenced to 13 years in prison on a controversial terrorism charge in early 2015. The 49-year-old was granted asylum by the British government last May after he was authorised to seek medical treatment there amidst mounting foreign pressure.
“I don’t think I can return home without risks. I don’t think there will ever be a time for that,” he told AFP.
“I guess I’ll have to take the risks and do it, if I were to do it.”
In the UK, Nasheed teamed up with Yameen’s former deputy to form the Maldives United Opposition, a broad coalition comprised of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Adhaalath Party, and former top government officials.
The MUO was launched in London last June with the aim of removing Yameen from power and setting up a transitional government. However, the coalition has yet to reach a consensus on fielding a single candidate.
In October, Nasheed’s heavyweight international lawyers meanwhile filed a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee seeking its intervention to secure his candidacy in 2018.
His jailing after a rushed trial marred by apparent due process violations was ruled illegal and politically motivated by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in September 2015. However, the government rejected the “non-binding opinion” and the supreme court went on to uphold Nasheed’s conviction over the military’s detention of a top judge.
He could meanwhile be facing a fresh trial if he returns to the Maldives as the police sought charges against Nasheed earlier this month over the arrest of then-MP Yameen in 2010.
Nasheed is in the US to participate in a climate change panel discussion at the Sundance Film Festival alongside former US Vice President Al Gore, social entrepreneur and philanthropist Jeff Skoll, and environmentalist and scientist Dr David Suzuki.
The Maldives is already facing the impacts of climate change with 16 islands to be evacuated, he told AFP, suggesting that the government should rely on the country’s resources and foreign investment to fund mitigation and adaptation measures.
However, investor confidence is low due to the cancellation of contracts with foreign firms, Nasheed contended, referring to the termination of an agreement with India’s GMR to develop the main international airport.
Last month, the government paid the Indian infrastructure giant US$271 million as compensation.
On the election of President Donald Trump, who has nominated a climate-change-skeptic to the US Environmental Protection Agency, Nasheed said he “completely respects” the decision of the American electorate.
He added: “I do not think climate change issues, or the progress made, can be reversed by any single person.”
Asked about Trump possibly reneging on commitments made at the Paris climate change conference, Nasheed said: “Many politicians when they come to positions think that. But when you start running a government you find out the truth, and you can’t run away from it.”