A fourth lawmaker who backed Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the war for control of the ruling party has returned to President Abdulla Yameen’s fold, dealing a blow to the former president’s plans to check his half-brother’s hold on power through the parliament.
Saudhullah Hilmy, the Progressive Party of the Maldives’ MP for the Thinadhoo constituency, was part of an eight-member breakaway faction formed in October to rectify “evil laws” enacted by the ruling-party dominated parliament.
His defection, prompted by the cancellation of lucrative government contracts, closely follows that of Gayoom’s daughter former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, and brings the rival parliamentary group’s numbers down to four.
Yameen continues to enjoy a comfortable parliamentary majority, regaining control of 50 seats in the 85-member house.
The Gayoom faction, however, said Saudhulla’s defection does not affect its plans. “We will see more actions when the parliament reconvenes. There is no change in our plans,” said Yumna Maumoon, Gayoom’s daughter.
Parliament is set to reconvene on February 6.
Saudhullah abandoned Gayoom after the government cancelled contracts worth MVR66million (US$4.3million) awarded to his construction company, Swift Engineering.
“I have never criticised the government. I want to clarify my stance now. I want to tell the public that I am now with President Abdulla Yameen,” he told the Voice of Free Press on Sunday.
The lawmaker told the Maldives Independent that he had never left Yameen’s side. “It was perceived that I had joined the Gayoom faction because I took part in that event,” he said referring to the October announcement of the breakaway group.
When asked if his defection was caused by cancellation of projects, he said: “I cannot say it is directly related to that.”
Saudhullah is one of the four shareholders of Swift Engineering. The cancelled projects include the construction of a health centre on the island of Hinnavaru in Lhaviyani Atoll, and school buildings on the islands of Naifaru in Lhaviyani Atoll, Maavah in Laamu Atoll, and Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu Atoll, as well as a building for the gender ministry on the island of Fonadhoo in Laamu Atoll, according to the Voice of Free Press.
At the time of its founding, the breakaway group had announced plans to remove PPM MP Ibrahim Riza from the judicial watchdog and table an impeachment motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh.
But the plans were foiled by almost-immediate defections and the parliament closed for recess in November without any apparent progress.
In November, PPM MPs Ahmed ‘Red Wave’ Saleem and Ibrahim Shujau renewed their support for Yameen when a state-owned company threatened to seize a plot of land leased to Saleem’s grocery chain.
Saleem initially condemned what he called Yameen’s harassment of political opponents and called on MPs to overcome fear saying that he was “not concerned about wealth or property.”
Days later, Saleem and Shujau, who manages the grocery chain, returned to Yameen’s fold saying they had done so to respect the wishes of their constituents.
Most recently, Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhooree Party who threw his support behind Gayoom, had a domestic airport leased to his Villa Group seized and an international airport downgraded to domestic status.
Yameen has won the war for the PPM, winning supreme court support for a ruling that stripped Gayoom of the leadership of the PPM. The courts have since rejected other legal bids launched by Gayoom to regain control.
On Thursday, the police prevented the 79-year-old from meeting his supporters at his office. Aminath Nadira, Gayoom’s deputy, suggested that the president was behind the “unlawful order.”
Police Commissioner Ahmed Areef and the watchdog National Integrity Commission and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives were asked to launch investigations.
Gayoom, Yumna, Nadira and the secretary general of his faction, Abdul Aleem, are meanwhile under investigation over a missing hard drive that contained details of the party’s members.
The hard drive was reported missing after Yameen’s supporters ransacked the ruling party’s headquarters.
The army has meanwhile downgraded protection for Gayoom and the finance ministry has scaled back perks for former presidents.
The feud between the Gayoom brothers broke out into the open in June when Gayoom’s son, Faris Maumoon, was expelled from the PPM for voting against a government sponsored bill. At the time, Gayoom had refused a request by the party’s governing council to grant Yameen the party’s presidential ticket without a primary.
Shafaa Hameed contributed reporting to this article