President Abdulla Yameen has set up a rival council to govern the Progressive Party of the Maldives after a court stripped its leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, of all of his powers.
The ruling party has descended into open warfare with Yameen locked in a battle with his half-brother and former president for control over the party.
Gayoom, who remains defiant, had convened a council of his own supporters earlier in the day, and announced that he would appeal the “unlawful” civil court verdict, which had also installed Yameen, who sits on the governing council as an advisor, as the leader of the PPM.
“This is the real PPM. I am repeatedly telling you that those behind President Yameen is the real PPM,” declared MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla after the rival council’s first meeting on Sunday.
The Yameen council has appointed its own secretary general and representatives for all-party talks with the government. Abdul Raheem, who Gayoom sacked from the party’s vice-presidency on Saturday, was restored and MP Abdulla Khaleel was selected as the secretary general.
Abdul Raheem and majority leader, Ahmed Nihan, will represent the PPM at the all-party talks with the government, the council decided.
Yameen will set up office in different premises, Abdul Raheem also announced.
“President Yameen does not want to go in to the party office [controlled by Gayoom] until the appeals process is completed. So we will open a new office and as ordered by the court, President Yameen will lead the party,” he said.
Ghassan Maumoon, Gayoom’s youngest son, was the only common member on both councils. A majority of the Yameen council comprises of cabinet ministers and MPs, while Gayoom’s includes all of his four children, former home minister Umar Naseer, and long-time loyalists and gender equality advocates, Aneesa Ahmed and Rashidha Yoosuf.
Ghassan, a minister at the president’s office, did not quit the government as his sister, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon, did when the feud between the two Gayoom brothers broke into the open in July. He was implicated in a conspiracy to launder up to US$1.5billion through the Maldives central bank, according to an investigative documentary by Al Jazeera. Both Ghassan and the central bank denied the claim.
It was triggered by Gayoom’s refusal to endorse Yameen for the 2018 presidential election and advocacy against some government-sponsored legislation. Gayoom’s oldest son, MP Faris Maumoon, was expelled in July when he voted against a bill authorizing the government to lease islands for tourism without an open bidding process.
Gayoom subsequently suspended the party’s governing council, a majority of which was controlled by Yameen supporters, and announced a reform agenda to “restore democracy” within the party.
Two MPs loyal to Yameen then sought court action to force Gayoom to reconvene the council. They had also lodged a separate petition seeking Gayoom’s removal from the party leadership.
The verdict issued on Sunday morning, appeared to address both complaints, and came in Yameen’s favour, and installed the president as the head of the ruling party and ordered him to call a meeting within 24 hours. The petition to remove Gayoom was withdrawn after the favourable verdict.
Gayoom meanwhile claims that the judgment should not be enforced until the high court rules on an appeal, contending that the court does not have jurisdiction to remove the party’s president. A two-third majority vote by delegates at a PPM congress is needed for impeachment, according to the PPM’s charter.
The row has plunged the party into disarray amid preparations for the local council elections. The two factions are making separate arrangements.
Abdul Raheem said that the Yameen faction will begin accepting applications for the primary once their office is set up. The Gayoom faction has already put out a call for applicants.
The lawmaker went on to describe Gayoom’s actions as unlawful: “What is going on inside the PPM office is illegal. It is regrettable that President Maumoon has chosen to disobey the court.”
Responding to Gayoom’s claim that Yameen as the party’s chief advisor cannot get actively involved in managing the party, Abdul Raheem said: “This is a special situation. The party was not functioning, so the court order gave us a solution. Even though that is what the charter says, when that charter is being violated, there has to be another solution.
“We can’t allow the party to come to a halt because of the actions of one individual. This party does not belong to just one person or two. This party is connected to the interests of a large majority of Maldives. It [the court order] doesn’t violate the PPM statutes.”
Gayoom has meanwhile announced a public rally for October 31, the anniversary of the party.
Reporting by Mohamed Junaid