The Supreme Court on Monday held a preliminary meeting over the leadership dispute of the Progressive Party of Maldives as its former leaders denied forming a new political party to escape debt.
Hearings are due to begin in a case filed by a PPM member against a 2016 civil court decision that stripped former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of his role as the party’s elected leader.
The civil court had ordered then-president Abdulla Yameen – who held a ceremonial role as the party’s chief advisor – to resume council meetings under his leadership. He was promptly put in charge of the party by the council.
The lawsuit by PPM member Ali Ahmed from the Laamu Gan island – who is seeking an order to hand back the party’s control to Gayoom – was filed at the civil court. It was taken over by the Supreme Court in the wake of Yameen’s heavy defeat in September’s election.
Yameen was elected as the PPM president at a disputed congress held days after the presidential election, which was seen as a move to avert a challenge by Gayoom to reclaim the party’s leadership.
Both sides reportedly exchanged documents at Monday’s meeting.
Anticipating an unfavourable ruling, Yameen and his loyalists at the PPM have been working to form a new party called the People’s National Congress.
MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, former deputy leader of the PPM and the PNC’s founder, told reporters on Sunday he would not go back to the former ruling party.
“We don’t have to go back even if Yameen gets PPM leadership. We have formed a new party. If this party is allowed to register, we will remain here,” he said.
If the court ruled in Yameen’s favour, Abdul Raheem said there would be two parties that support the former president as opposition leader.
A three-party opposition coalition could be formed between the PNC, PPM and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party, he suggested.
MP Abdulla Khaleel, who also left PPM to join PNC, denied allegations that a new party was formed to escape millions incurred as debt during the presidential election campaign.
In October last year, the state-owned Island Aviation Services sought to recover MVR4.8 million (US$311,284) owed by the PPM for flights chartered to bring supporters to the capital for a mass rally.
The company, which operates the national airline Maldivian, complained to the finance ministry and the Elections Commission after the PPM failed to make payments in accordance with an agreement.
The EC was asked to deduct the money from the annual state funding allocated to the PPM, but the electoral body said it lacked the legal authority to divert the funds.
At Sunday’s press briefing, Khaleel claimed the PPM debt was unsettled because the party was waiting for MVR8.5 million owed as annual state funding.
“The state owes PPM nearly MVR20 million including the amount budgeted for this year. The problem will be solved when the debt is deducted and paid to island aviation. So in reality, PPM is not in debt,” he contended.
Meanwhile, on Monday night, Yameen called an emergency meeting of the PPM’s council, which elected former state minister Abdul Matheen Mohamed as the party’s new secretary-general.
Former secretary-general Mohamed Hussain Shareef has joined the PNC along with several PPM lawmakers and former ministers.
The PPM council also picked three lawyers to represent the party at the Supreme Court, according to media reports.
In a separate case, the Supreme Court is due to rule on the legitimacy of the PPM congress held in September after the High Court overruled the EC’s decision not to recognise the new leadership.