President Abdulla Yameen lashed out at opposition leaders Monday night in his first public appearance since the ruling coalition’s loss in the May 6 local council election.
“Why should you stay in hiding abroad? Those who thirst for power here should come back to the Maldives. The first thing you should accept is that court verdicts will be binding on everyone,” Yameen said in a fiery speech at the coalition’s meeting hall in Malé.
“It won’t do when you criticise these things from afar. Our opponents now, they are also opposed to each other. We can see what they have said about each other. But now none of them is in a state where they can provide protection for the other. All of them have collectively gone into self-imposed exile.”
The opposition leaders cannot work together because of their adversarial history and desire to seek the presidency, he said, criticising the unlikely partnership between former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed.
After losing a bitter leadership dispute with his half-brother for control of the ruling party, Gayoom has been working with opposition parties to seize Yameen’s previously unassailable pro-government majority.
The 79-year-old travelled to India to visit a sick relative in early March and has yet to return.
Nasheed has been living in exile in the United Kingdom since he was granted medical leave from prison in January 2016. The opposition leader was convicted on a controversial terrorism charge and sentenced to 13 years in jail in early 2015.
“Our so strong political leaders who say nation first, are they saying nation first now? When I came here they were playing ‘you are our beloved leader’ [Gayoom campaign song] at the MDP jagaha [campaign meeting hall]. This is our present state,” Yameen said.
Yameen insisted that the judiciary is independent and free of undue influence from the executive, a recurring declaration in his speeches.
The arm of the law will reach everyone under the current administration, he said. In the face of criticism over the jailing of political opponents, Yameen has maintained that they were prosecuted for committing crimes and jailed after fair trials.
The ranks of imprisoned high-profile politicians and state officials include Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof, former Defence Ministers Mohamed Nazim and Tholhath Ibrahim, former ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, former Colonel Ahmed Fayaz, former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin, and Magistrate Ahmed Nihan.
More recently, Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and MP Abdulla Riyaz were put on trial. Gasim, the only opposition leader able to actively lead the new coalition, was released after 20 days in police custody last week.
Yameen meanwhile acknowledged the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s landslide win in last week’s municipal elections. The MDP won 100 more seats than the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
The PPM and coalition partners Maldives Development Alliance and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party should learn lessons from the outcome, he said, but contended that an “alternative narrative” could be told about the results.
The ruling coalition lost 100 seats in races where the vote was split between pro-government candidates, Yameen claimed.
“So if you deduct 100 from the seats won by the opposition and add 100 to the seats won by our coalition, the public has declared the results of this election,” he said.
He also blamed the PPM’s leadership dispute for the poor showing. The party was split into rival factions in October when the civil court stripped Gayoom of his powers as the party’s elected leader. Both factions at the time invited interested candidates to apply for the party’s ticket.
Yameen said PPM lost in 23 constituencies where members ran as independents against the party’s official candidate.
The low turnout in Malé, where he said only three in ten voters cast ballots, also suggests that a majority felt it was unnecessary to elect a city council since the government has been providing municipal services, he argued.
After Yameen assumed office in November 2013, the opposition-dominated city councils were stripped of their powers and responsibilities by the parliament, which transferred most municipal services to government ministries and left the Malé and Addu city councils with providing registration services and issuing birth and death certificates.
The turnout in the capital was 42 percent, well below the national average of 66 percent, which was also higher than the previous local council elections in January 2014 where the turnout was 64 percent.
The MDP won 21 out of 23 seats on the Malé, Addu, and Fuvahmulah city councils and secured majorities in other populous islands.
Yameen went on to warn opposition councillors against obstructing the government’s development efforts. Despite the opposition majorities, Yameen said the government will develop the country with or without the cooperation of island, atoll or city councils.
“I am not someone who will mislead the public about serious problems. I am not someone who will lie. I am not someone who will deceive the public to win votes,” he said.
“Where is the mariculture done by the MDP-majority councils on the lagoons of their islands? We didn’t see that mariculture. But increasing the country’s wealth through mariculture was in their manifesto. Even when they got power in a region, they weren’t able to do the things in that manifesto.”