The leaders of the Maldives United Opposition have travelled to Sri Lanka after several months of exile in the United Kingdom, fuelling growing speculation of President Abdulla Yameen’s imminent ouster.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party Chairman Ali Waheed, both of whom have been granted political asylum by the British government, landed at Colombo yesterday.
According to newspaper Mihaaru, Nasheed will take part in “an important sit-down over the present crisis in the Maldives.”
Speculation of a possible transfer of power further intensified today after the BBC published a widely shared report about a plot to remove Yameen from power within weeks.
Yameen’s spokesman, Ibrahim Shihab, told the BBC that the government was aware of a “formal attempt at ‘legally’ overthrowing the government”.
He called the plot “disingenuous to the people of the Maldives and in clear breach of international legal norms.”
The MUO, led by Yameen’s former deputy, Dr Jameel, has vowed to arrest the president on corruption charges and to establish an interim government.
Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Shihab dismissed the BBC report’s claims of instability and Yameen’s political isolation, stating that he has the complete support of the cabinet.
“It is a one-sided report. While they have spoken to several members of the opposition in person, we were only given a chance to respond over e-mail, after the team had flown back to India after shooting in the Maldives,” he said.
The government was unaware that the BBC journalists were in the Maldives, he added.
Asked whether their discretion could have been prompted by the recent deportation of a foreign couple who photographed an opposition rally, Shihab said that the BBC did not even choose to “test the system”.
He, however, acknowledged the rift in the ruling party between Yameen and his half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
“There are differences on both sides of the aisle. But this hasn’t reflected in the functioning of the government. Eventually, any conflict is going to be resolved,” he said.
In the wake of the BBC report, key ministers have also dismissed the possibility that the government could be toppled in the near future.
“This government is strongly backed by Maldivians who have experienced unparalleled development in just two-plus years. It can’t be toppled by a bunch of clowns,” tweeted Fisheries Minister Dr Mohamed Shainee.
New Home Minister Azleen Ahmed told pro-government outlet Avas that “the president and his administration remains steadfast”.
“The ranks of the security forces are united. God Willing, we will foil attacks on our nation and any plans to rock the rule of law. What has been revealed in today’s news is just a mad thinking,” he said.
He went on to suggest foreign involvement in the alleged plot and vowed to take action.
According to Avas, rumours are swirling of plans to kidnap Yameen and the security forces have been on high alert since August 23.
On Wednesday night, the Maldives National Defence Force organised a mass gathering to promote “patriotism and love of nation” among soldiers.
According to the MNDF, Brigadier General Zakariyya Mansoor addressed the soldiers and highlighted incidents from the Maldives’ past.
The director general of the counter-terrorism department “spoke in great detail about the Maldives’ current situation and atmosphere”.
Stressing the essential role of soldiers in protecting the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty, Mansoor “reminded” the military of their oath in the name of God to sacrifice their lives in defence of “Islam and the nation”.
Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar and Chief of Defence Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam attended the event at the Kalhuthu’kalaa Koshi barracks in Malé, which concluded with a recitation of a special prayer.
Sources told The Maldives Independent this week that eight soldiers were detained at the military barracks earlier this month on charges of canvassing for support for Yameen’s ouster, four of whom were later sacked on charges of violating the military’s code of conduct.
The army has also barred soldiers from meeting politicians, including ministers, and foreigners without permission.
Omkar Khandekar and Mohamed Saif Fathih contributed reporting
Correction: August 30, 2016
An earlier version of this article said Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the leader of the MUO, had traveled to Sri Lanka from London. This is incorrect.