Once bitter rivals, former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed appeared tonight side-by-side in a video message broadcast from London, urging Maldivians to unite against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged corruption.
A crowd numbering in the thousands gathered at Malé’s Artificial Beach to watch Nasheed’s first public address since his jailing a year ago. The rally was the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s first major gathering since a police crackdown on a protest in November.
“We will not throw up our hands in despair and give up when faced with the risk of losing all of our wealth and inheritance to corruption,” said the opposition leader, who left the Maldives last month on a 30-day medical leave in a deal brokered by top diplomats.
The Nasheed-Jameel alliance, announced just last week, has proven divisive but appeared tonight to energize opposition supporters worn out by a year of multiple and unexpected political crises.
Jameel, who was impeached with opposition backing in July, is a controversial figure for Nasheed’s supporters because of his role in the former president’s ouster in 2012. Tonight, he issued an apology of sorts, asking both the opposition and his own ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives to bear no animosity for words spoken in the past.
Slamming his former boss as “a threat to democracy and a danger to the Maldivian people,” Jameel alleged that the Maldives had become a “mafia state” under Yameen’s rule.
Yameen’s administration is currently mired in a massive corruption scandal, involving the embezzlement of tens of millions of dollars from tourism leases, that only fully came to light following the arrest of Jameel’s successor, Ahmed Adeeb, on suspicion of links to a blast on the presidential speedboat last September.
The government is also facing targeted sanctions over the jailing of opposition leaders, including Nasheed.
Jameel said: “Yameen has violated our constitution and undermined the rule of law. His rule has no involvement or say of the Maldivian public. He has robbed the state treasury, and destroyed the democratic system of checks and balances we brought in. There is no longer any legal or moral basis for his rule.”
Some 160 islands and lagoons had been sold off, but not a single coin entered the state treasury, Jameel alleged. “Despite all of the fireworks, we have not seen a single development project… but he [Yameen] has enriched himself. He has gifted plots on Malé’s waterfront to his relatives.
“When a leader believes selling off our country in this matter is economics, he has betrayed our trust and lost the legal right to rule us.”
Nasheed’s brief speech meanwhile touched on maintaining Indian Ocean security, protecting civil liberties, climate change and the risks posed by the steady outflow of Maldivian militants to Syria and Iraq.
“The end result of this is the destruction of the Maldivian tourism industry, loss of jobs and hardship, shocks to businesses and the economy, foreign investors shunning the Maldives, international sanctions on the Maldives.
“MDP will come out to save us from this mess, Adhaalath Party will speak out, Jumhooree Party too. Tonight it gives us pleasure that PPM’s elected Vice President Jameel is joining us. This is the moment for any Maldivian who wants to stand up for the Maldives.”
The opposition coalition, which now comprises of the MDP, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, and members of tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party, harks back to the short-lived anti-government coalitions of 2008 and 2012.
In 2008, minor parties backed Nasheed against Yameen’s half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the Maldives for 30 years. Months into Nasheed’s presidency, they split with the MDP and allied with Gayoom. Such unstable alliances and personality clashes have roiled the Maldives over the past decade.
It is not clear if or when Jameel would return to Malé. He fled the country days before the parliament was set to vote to remove him.
Nasheed has meanwhile hinted that he might extend his medical leave. His lawyers said it could take up to six months to recover from a spinal condition.
The MDP is planning a walk against corruption tomorrow. The police have banned all street activities, but MDP says the peaceful walk will go ahead as planned.
The party announced on Thursday that it has damning evidence of government involvement in terrorism financing, money laundering, and bribery, a claim the government has denounced as baseless.