The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives will hold a congress to decide whether the party should award its ticket to incumbent President Abdulla Yameen or call a primary.
The congress will take place in November 2017, a year before the 2018 polls, according to a reform agenda put out by PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The strongman who ruled the Maldives for 30 years has refused to grant his half-brother, Yameen, the PPM ticket without a primary, triggering a power struggle that has now split the party.
A majority of the PPM council, including two of Gayoom’s children, had signed a petition urging the ticket be awarded to Yameen, but Gayoom branded the petition invalid, suggesting that council members were coerced into signing.
The PPM charter allows incumbents to secure the ticket uncontested in the absence of a challenger. A congress must be called in the event of multiple contenders.
Umar Naseer, Yameen’s former home minister, announced his candidacy on July 1. Welcoming Gayoom’s plans, he said he looked forward to the February 2018 primary.
I have decided to run in the 2018 Presidential Election.
— Umar Naseer (@UmarNaseerPPM) July 1, 2016
I welcome the time line announced by RM today & look forward to the primary in Feb2018. Let us return PPM to its founding values.
— Umar Naseer (@UmarNaseerPPM) July 3, 2016
If the PPM’s congress decides to call a primary, it will be held in February 2018 and the party will begin its campaign for the presidency in March that year, according to the reform agenda.
Naseer, who quit the government without comment in late June, told pro-government news website Avas that he had reversed his previous decision to wait until the 2023 election because the country needs a president with integrity.
If the PPM does not hold a presidential primary, Naseer said he would contest as an independent candidate, adding that he has the backing of senior political figures.
Gayoom had praised Naseer as a “man of honour and integrity” following the latter’s surprise resignation.
Shortly after Naseer announced his candidacy, Gayoom removed him from a council formed to advise him on reforming the ruling party. Naseer told newspaper Mihaaru that he left the council to minimise “conflict of interest.”
On the same day, Naseer posted an article by Vnews on Twitter which speculated Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, may be his running mate in the 2018 primary. Mihaaru subsequently carried an article in which an anonymous source close to Faris dismissed the claim.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, Yameen’s spokesman, responding to Naseer’s show of interest, said in a tweet: “The president has never competed with political rivals. He has always competed with the nation’s problems.”
Naseer’s slogan for the primary will be “trustworthy,” the same one he had used in the 2013 polls that he lost to Yameen, local media report.
At the time, Naseer had accused Yameen of vote rigging, corruption and links to the drug trade and criminal gangs. He was expelled from the PPM when he refused to apologise for his comments.
Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish