By N Sathiya Moorthy*
Giving a new angle to the ongoing tussle for supremacy between the factions within the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), rebel leader Umar Naseer had this to tell President Abdulla Yameen: “Mr. President, meet me in a primary race to decide whose PPM has the grassroots support. Ballot box is the surest way to resolve this divide.”
Sounding innocuous at one level — and throwing a challenge at another, Umar Naseer’s comments are as much addressed to the PPM faction under former President, party-founder and Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, as at the incumbent.
Contesting the presidential polls as an Independent and joining Gayoom after losing it without trace, Naseer had challenged Yameen in the PPM primaries in 2013, and later went on to the courts, when the results went against him.
Post-poll, President Yameen named Naseer Home Minister on what could be dubbed ‘Maumoon’s quota’. Not only did Naseer acquit himself ‘well’ in that role but also went on to defend the Yameen leadership in a variety of controversies, before quitting without any hints when the PPM factional feud began taking shape a couple of months ago.
Topping the list of Naseer’s defence in Yameen’s favour was the revival of the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ against former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, its conversion from ‘criminal case’ to ‘terrorism charge’, and subsequent conviction and jail-term for Nasheed. It’s another matter that at one stage, Yameen also entrusted Naseer with coordinating the all-party ‘political negotiations’, which never really took off.
In this background, Naseer’s present posturing is aimed at staking what his limited ‘camp-followers’ within the Maumon Gayoom faction would call his ‘legitimate claims’ to PPM nomination for contesting the presidency.
It is otherwise believed that a Gayoom progeny would be the faction’s nominee for the presidency in elections that are now due in late 2018.
Gayoom’s son Faarish Maumoon is the favourite, though daughter Dunya Maumoon, the relatively better-known Foreign Minister of President Yameen till she quit not very long ago, could be the dark-horse. It’s even argued that the Maumoon-Yameen feud itself owes to the latter going back on the gentleman’s agreement from the 2013 pre-poll family pact.
If Naseer is thus serving notice as much to the Maumoon faction where he now belongs, Yameen too is trying to do his bit in that direction. Seeking to hide his camp’s possible nervousness flowing from Maumoon’s bold step forward in crystallising the faction-feud by withdrawing support to the Government and seven MPs joining him, Yameen still keeps sending confusing signals to the other Gayoom camp-followers – or, so it seems.
At last Friday night’s (November 4) national rally of his faction, now recognised as official PPM by the courts, Yameen blew hot and cold at Gayoom. He praised his two MPs who had moved the courts on party ownership, if it so termed. At the same time, he called upon half-brother Maumoon to join them and ‘guide’ them.
“This is a happy night,” local media reports quoted Yameen as saying. “But the happiness would be greatly enhanced if our party’s president was with us. Without a doubt, a shadow has been cast upon this rally because our party’s president is not with us … I want to say to the president of our party, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, come with us. Guide us. We are ready to walk along with you, patiently, according to the party’s principles and its council.”
Yameen’s rally speech is variously diagnosed. After capturing the party through repeated judicial orders, up to the Supreme Court, he continues to refer to Maumoon as ‘party president’. He seems to feel uncomfortable about going back to the voters without the other Gayoom’s support, more so after Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim had joined hands with the latter. Hence he seems wanting to have Maumoon ‘guide’ us, but ‘according to the party’s … council”, which is now under his control.
Given his vast political experience, including that of working with half-brother Yameen for long, and also reflecting possible cadre-mood from within his faction at the very least, Maumoon was prompt in declining Yameen’s offer. It is an ‘attempt at deceiving the public’, Maumoon said in a statement.
Maumoon’s other daughter Yumna, twin-sister of ex-Minister Dunya, claimed that the lack of enthusiasm of the ‘forced crowd’ at Yameen’s rally was visible from absence of loud cheers and applauses when the latter spoke.
Media reports quoting various opposition parties and leaders, including the Maumoon faction, contest the Yameen camp’s claims to 12,000-attendance at Friday’s rally. Instead, they put the figure variously at 3,000-5,000 — but even so, by Maldivian standards, it’s a substantial crowd.
However, the opposition has claimed that government and public sector employees were forced to attend the rally by their superiors. Some have also produced envelopes with serial numbers, claiming that Rufiyaa 500 each were paid to most participants, especially those from the islands.
Despite all this, Yameen seems to be counting on the continued divisions and consequent confusion in the opposition ranks to see him through a full term in office. If it happens, he would be the first President since the advent of democracy in the country in 2008 to do so.
At some point, his camp might begin stressing it as a point while seeking to retain parliamentary majority first, and possibly seeking re-election, whenever polls are held. He also seems to count on the confusion — and absence of consensus over the next course of action in the Opposition camp — to check against any impeachment motion against him, than even on his own political and parliamentary strength.
It’s a negative strategy, yet it may have greater validity at the moment than is credited with. Maumoon has not gone back on his early promise to stick to the constitutional means to ‘restore democracy’. This would mean that either the Maumoon faction would seek out the impeachment route or wait for the next presidential polls.
The official opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), known for its street-protest strategies, has failed miserably in triggering and retaining cadre and supporter enthusiasm, unlike when they were demanding President Gayoom’s exit in the previous decade. They are now resigned to accepting the impeachment route with Gayoom-Gasim’s help, but may be as much concerned about the post-Yameen political set-up.
The MDP, especially the self-exiled party leadership, would be keen on Nasheed returning home and becoming President — or, at least having the chance of contesting the presidential polls, whenever held. After formally splitting with Yameen, the Gayoom faction openly criticised the terrorism charge against Nasheed, but were unclear if his conviction and sentence would go, for the latter to contest the presidential polls.
Former Minister Naseer especially said that while they were against the terrorism case against Nasheed, the latter would not be allowed to become President. It could then imply that either the original ‘criminal case’ trial against Nasheed could be restored, leading to possible conviction and sentence, leading to a fresh bout of disqualification – or, the status quo would remain.
Nasheed, as may be recalled, has been granted political asylum in the UK, and he cannot afford to return unless and until his legal position on freedom and ‘inclusive elections’ are assured. It’s another matter that independent of the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’, where available evidence is loaded against him, Nasheed anyway faces the charge of jumping prison while on ‘medical leave’ in the UK, and committing contempt by disobeying court orders to surrender.
Thus for any consolidated ‘opposition’ move against Yameen to bear fruits, they would have to be clear among themselves about ‘what after Yameen’. If nothing else, Yameen has provided a certain element of ‘political stability’ after over a decade of instability. It had started in the later years of Maumoon’s last term in office — when Nasheed and other ‘pro-democracy’, rather anti-Gayoom forces had begun it all, jointly and severally.
Independent of the advent of democracy, and now its reported suppression, the Yameen camp is not unlikely to play on the popular sentiment, especially outside of the urban centres, where prices, income and public order, matter more. It’s this self-created logjam that owes more to personal interests and egos that the ‘divided’, faction-ridden Opposition needs to overcome and in quick time, if they have to challenge Yameen where it hurts him politically — that’s Parliament.
It’s the route to the opposition’s ‘collective success’ than their dividedly — and at times ‘divisively’ — addressing the ‘international community’ or even the local masses, whether or not the incumbent government grants them the required permission to hold public rally.
The Gayoom camp was the latest one to be denied that permission last week, that too after the police and the Yameen cadres had ransacked the office of the united PPM, in the name of establishing the latter’s supremacy and/or looking for the party’s membership details and the like.
*N. Sathiya Moorthy is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation. He can be contacted at [email protected]