President Abdulla Yameen’s supporters have cleared out the Progressive Party of the Maldives’ headquarters with police’s help, removing computers, documents, and furniture on Friday, and finally stripping the party’s nameplate from its walls on Sunday.
“Some unknown characters have forced open the PPM office and are taking away things in trucks,” former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is locked with his half brother in a battle for the ruling party, decried in a tweet on Friday.
“Isn’t this robbery?” he asked.
Gayoom is the elected leader of the PPM, but Yameen loyalists have successfully petitioned the courts to seize control of the party. The civil war, which has split the party into fully fledged rival factions, was triggered by the 78-year-old former president’s refusal to endorse his younger brother, 57 years, for the 2018 presidential polls.
The dramatic scenes, broadcast live on all major television channels and transfixing ordinary Maldivians, began Thursday night when riot police prevented Gayoom’s supporters from holding a rally at the PPM headquarters at Henveiru Thema in Malé.
The former strongman, who had ruled the Maldives for 30 years, promptly withdrew support for Yameen on television. Later that night, supporters of the two factions placed separate padlocks on the pink iron grill gates.
On Friday evening, a group of young men led by MP Ahmed ‘Avista’ Assad broke open the lock placed by the Gayoom faction as riot police pushed back the former president’s supporters behind barricades.
Heated words were exchanged, and Gayoom’s daughter Yumna Maumoon petitioned the police to stop the ransacking of the office, alleging that the Yameen faction required a separate court warrant to remove the party’s assets.
Gayoom’s children, including MP Faris Maumoon, were left waiting at the police headquarters until the early hours of the morning on Friday, with police commander Hamdhoon Rasheed refusing to meet them.
“It is all of PPM member’s rights that have just been removed from the PPM’s offices at Henveiru Thema,” Yumna tweeted Sunday. Gayoom’s newly appointed deputy, Aminath Nadira, mocked Yameen on Twitter, saying: “When you sized everything from Henveiru Thema, did you also find the PPM presidential ticket that you had wanted so badly?”
Local media meanwhile reported labourers from the state-owned Maldives Ports Limited had been brought into clean out the office.
Some eight trucks of furniture, documents and computers was moved to the Yameen faction’s headquarters at the Dharubaaruge convention centre, a public building which has been leased to the Yameen faction by the housing ministry until the end of the local council elections, scheduled for January.
The party’s flags and sound systems were also removed, and nameplate stripped of its plastic letters on Sunday.
A police spokesman told the Maldives Independent the police were abiding by a civil court ruling that had installed Yameen as the head of the PPM. The ruling has been upheld by the supreme court.
Faris told reporters on Friday that seizure of the party’s assets would not change the people’s love and support for Gayoom. He added that Gayoom faction officials were not aware the identities of the people involved in the move: “This is not going the way it should. We have no idea who these people are. All we know is what we know through the media.”
It is not yet clear what items are left at Thema, as Gayoom faction officials continue to be denied access to the office.
The seizure of the party’s assets came after the Gayoom faction refused to accept a letter from Abdulla Khaleel, a lawmaker who was appointed secretary general by Yameen, asking them to handover the party’s assets, data base and other documents.
Gayoom’s withdrawal of support signals a seismic shift in the Maldivian political landscape.
Eight ruling coalition MPs have formed an anti- Yameen bloc in the parliament, one that could pose a threat to the previously unassailable pro-government majority in parliament. The opposition has meanwhile pledged to work with Gayoom and said Yameen has now lost legitimacy to govern.
But Yameen’s loyalists insist that the government will not falter despite Gayoom’s withdrawal of support.