After nearly three years in exile, former president Mohamed Nasheed was accorded a hero’s welcome by throngs of jubilant supporters Thursday afternoon.
Accompanied by former first lady Laila Ali and president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the 51-year-old was greeted at the airport by family members and leaders of the four-party coalition.
On the short ride to Malé from the airport island, Nasheed’s speedboat was surrounded by jet skis, a flyboard jetpack and a fleet of boats and dinghies decked out in the Maldivian Democratic Party’s yellow flags.
Thousands of supporters clad in yellow packed the streets of the capital as Nasheed walked from the official jetty to the artificial beach in Malé’s eastern waterfront.
Yellow confetti rained down from balconies on the main thoroughfare.
Chanting ‘Anni’ (Nasheed’s nickname) and carrying banners with expressions of love, supporters were divided into groups representing 90 constituencies. Boatloads of people arrived Thursday morning from across the archipelago.
“The victory of the joint opposition candidate in the presidential election was an example Maldivians showed to the whole world,” Nasheed said at the artificial beach, his first speech in the country since his arrest in February 2015.
“You have shown that Maldivians won’t lose hope. You have shown that Maldivians won’t back down.”
Opposition leaders are indebted to the Maldivian people, he added. Nasheed said his aim was to maintain the administration of “childhood friend” Solih.
He concluded the speech by leading a chant of ‘President Ibu!’
Briefing the press after the rally, Nasheed said he does not intend to take a post in Solih’s government. He did not rule out the possibility of running for parliament.
There would not be a mid-term election and Solih will stay in office for the full five-year term, Nasheed said.
The Supreme Court cleared the way for Nasheed’s return last Tuesday by suspending his 13-year jail sentence pending a review of the controversial terrorism conviction.
He was found guilty of ordering the “abduction” of a judge after a widely criticised trial in March 2015. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention ruled Nasheed’s jailing was illegal and politically motivated but the government’s rejected the “non-binding opinion” and the Supreme Court upheld the verdict in June 2016.
Nasheed was living in exile in England and Sri Lanka after he was granted medical leave from prison in January 2016.
Solih, the opposition parliament leader, was named as an “alternative” candidate to Nasheed.
He is due to take the oath of office on November 17.
Photos by Ashwa Faheem.