MPs-elect of the Maldivian Democratic Party voted unanimously Monday night to choose former president Mohamed Nasheed as the next speaker of parliament.
The surprise move came after a divisive campaign between veterans Mohamed Aslam and Hassan Afeef that saw infighting among the MDP’s 65-member parliamentary group and the vilification of both contenders by supporters on social media. Media speculation of a split into rival factions grew as hostilities spilled over and an unnamed minister was accused of threatening to withhold projects while lobbying for Afeef.
Activists were gathered outside the Dharubaaruge convention centre in Malé when the incoming lawmakers met to resolve the political drama.
Nasheed chaired the televised meeting as the MDP’s president.
Speaking after his name was put forth, Aslam alleged interference by government officials and members of other parties, declared that he did not wish to be the cause of discord and anxiety “in our big party” and nominated Nasheed in the interests of unity.
“In my view, this contest has grown much wider than a contest between Mohamed Aslam and Hassan Afeef,” the three-term MP for Hithadhoo North said.
Aslam said he had reached the decision after consulting with Afeef, who served as home minister during Nasheed’s administration.
When Nasheed refused to accept the nomination, Afeef pleaded with him to reconsider. Disunity among the majority party’s lawmakers could derail its legislative agenda, the MP-elect for Vilufushi warned.
As the group backed Aslam and Afeef’s proposal with applause, Nasheed excused himself to phone “a very close friend,” presumed to have been President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
“This is really not how I wanted this to happen tonight even up to the last minute,” he said upon returning, and accepted the nomination, which was promptly approved by his 64 colleagues in a show of hands.
MP Eva Abdulla as the sole contender was nominated for deputy speaker.
Both nominees are expected to sail through as the MDP controls nearly three-quarters of the 87-member house.
The MPs-elect of the 19th People’s Majlis are due to take their oath of office Tuesday night. The vote for speaker and deputy speaker will take place in a secret ballot at the first sitting after the swearing-in ceremony.
Nasheed was previously expected to become the MDP’s parliamentary group leader.
The MP-elect for Central Machchangoalhi backed Aslam for the speaker’s post and ruled himself out as a candidate shortly after the MDP’s landslide victory in the April 6 polls, expressing lack of interest in the managerial role of the speaker, who does not join debates and only votes to break ties.
Re-elected MDP MPs Ibrahim Shareef, Ali Azim and Rozaina Adam had also announced their intention of contesting as the opposition coalition declared their support for Afeef.
The unprecedented strife over an MDP internal election escalated when President Solih appeared to endorse Afeef as his preferred choice last week. With Nasheed and Solih backing rival candidates, the vote was seen as a test to determine which leader enjoyed the parliamentary group’s support and loyalty.
Speaking to reporters after the vote, Nasheed insisted that his decades-old friendship with Solih has not been weakened due to the acrimonious dispute, adding that he had decided to accept the nomination after discussions with the president and the party’s leadership.
“As MDP’s most senior official, I offer my warm congratulations to president [Nasheed] and MP [Eva] for securing the nomination for Majlis Speaker and Deputy respectively,” President Solih tweeted after the vote.
“Congrats also to the PG Group. I look forward to work with the new Majlis on behalf of all Maldivians.”
Photo by Mohamed Waheed for PSM News