First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim’s campaign office has invited former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to inaugurate the second round of a symposium to train “campaign leaders” for President Abdulla Yameen’s 2018 re-election bid.
Gayoom had declined a previous invitation to inaugurate the first round of the symposium on Thursday night, fuelling speculation of a deepening rift between the Gayoom brothers and a split within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). Gayoom is the party’s leader.
Briefing the press on behalf of the campaign office yesterday, Ibrahim Muaz Ali – who is also the president’s spokesperson – said the former president had not responded to the first invitation.
“I believe he was unable to participate due to some reason. But we did not get an official letter,” he said.
Following Gayoom’s refusal to attend the symposium, a pro-government media outlet leaked conversations between PPM MPs on a Viber group, in which PPM MP Ibrahim Shujau said Gayoom’s decision can be interpreted as a refusal to back his half-brother Yameen for a second term in office.
Muaz had previously stressed that the symposium was organised by the first lady’s office without any official involvement of the PPM. However, the symposium took place with more than 300 delegates from PPM branches.
While the first round focused on members representing island branches from the northernmost Haa Alif atoll to central Meemu atoll, Muaz said the second round will take place from September 10 to 12 with members from Faafu atoll to the southernmost Addu atoll.
The third round will involve PPM members from branches in Malé, the capital’s suburbs Hulhumalé and Vilimalé, and supporters living overseas.
Vice President Ahmed Adeeb inaugurated the first symposium as the chief guest on Thursday night. Adeeb had said in a Facebook post last week that Gayoom would launch the symposium “as I have already sent the invitation letter to HEP Maumoon.”
“HEP Maumoon have been a very supportive brother, advisor and an inspiration to HEP Yameen and all of us,” he wrote.
The symposium has reportedly created friction within the PPM between Gayoom loyalists and Yameen supporters. The former object that holding a symposium with representatives from island branches before the 2018 PPM presidential candidate is chosen in a primary is against the party’s charter.
Meanwhile, at least 13 PPM branches have issued statements expressing support for Gayoom and urging PPM MPs to vote against an amendment proposed to the political parties law that would strip Gayoom of the party’s leadership.
Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Ali Azim proposed setting an age limit of 65 years for leaders of political parties. Gayoom is 77 and would lose his leadership post if the amendment is passed into law.
The PPM parliamentary group reportedly held two meetings to discuss its stance on the bill, but did not reach a decision. A proposal by Gayoom’s son and MP for Dhiggaru, Faris Maumoon, to issue a three-line whip to reject the amendment was not put to a vote.
The legislation will be up for debate when parliament returns from recess in October. As the PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls a comfortable majority of 48 seats in the 85-member house, the ruling coalition’s backing will be necessary to pass Azim’s bill.
Muaz meanwhile told the press yesterday that the 337 participants signed a resolution at the three-day symposium pledging to work as “campaign leaders” for Yameen ahead of the 2018 presidential polls.
The delegates pledged to foster a positive perception of the government and the president, disseminate information provided by the campaign office, and gather information from the public.
The symposium involved 12 lectures and group discussions. The “classes” were conducted by ministers and MPs, Muaz said.
Speaking at the closing ceremony last night, President Yameen said the purpose of the symposium is to prepare for the next election well in advance and recruit “thousands” of new members for the PPM.