Several prominent figures who were active in the front ranks of the former ruling party during the previous administration joined the Jumhooree Party on Monday night.
The new members who signed for the JP in a ceremony at the party’s headquarters in Malé included former vice president Abdulla Jihad and former home minister Azleen Ahmed as well as former Progressive Party of Maldives MPs Ahmed Nihan, Ali Arif, Ahmed Assad and Ibrahim Falah.
On social media, displeased activists of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party called on President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to expel the JP from the four-party ruling coalition. The new JP members should face investigation over corruption allegations, several people demanded.
Despite making a pact with the opposition alliance led by former president Abdulla Yameen to back each other’s candidates in April’s parliamentary polls, the JP’s nominees remain in top government posts, including the cabinet and vice presidency.
Speaking at the function, JP leader Gasim Ibrahim insisted that his party was loyal to President Solih and pledged to defend the government. The only purpose of recruiting the opposition heavyweights was to “make the JP bigger,” he said.
“We will remain in the coalition until we are discarded and thrown out and it will not be from a mistake we make. However, we will not vote for anything that goes against the constitution and Islam,” the business tycoon said.
The MP for Maamigili urged JP members to only offer constructive criticism and defended the current administration’s pace of work and slow rollout of development projects. Infrastructure projects involve “formalities” with a long planning and tendering process, he said, suggesting that none of the former presidents had managed to make much progress during their first year in office.
Underscoring the benefits of competition in a multi-party system, Gasim stressed that his goal was to grow and strengthen his party ahead of future elections. The JP’s membership has declined below the 10,000-member threshold of eligibility for state funds, he noted.
Planned reforms include holding primaries to elect candidates and setting up branches on all inhabited islands, he said. All members would have a path to the leadership through internal elections, he added.
The JP’s leaders and candidates were previously selected by the party’s governing council.
– Only permanent interests –
Referring to vitriolic rhetoric directed against him by the former lawmakers, Gasim said he does not harbour any ill will against the former political rivals.
“I don’t have grudges against anybody. Speeches behind podiums at political rallies do not affect me,” he said.
“In politics, I believe in interest, not trust. Everybody will take decisions that favour their interests. Nobody has the right to be sad or angry about it.”
In their speeches at the signing ceremony, all of the new members heaped praise on Gasim, describing the three-time presidential candidate as the “king” of Maldivian politics. The former lawmakers implied that they were jumping from “a sinking ship” led by former president Yameen, who is on trial on money laundering charges.
Former vice president Abdulla Jihad pledged to be “available 24-hours for the party” to help increase membership.
Azleen, who was home minister when Gasim was jailed and exiled during the former government, said his sight was set on winning the next presidential election.
Ahmed Nihan, former majority leader of parliament, said he could not decline Gasim’s offer to revive his political career.
“Hereafter the political landscape will be directed by Jumhooree Party. Our party’s council will decide who will sit on the throne in 2023,” he declared.