Maldivian Parliamentary Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed , who survived a bid on his life in May, has asked President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to “course-correct before it is too late”.
In a statement issued on Saturday, Mr. Nasheed accused President Solih of reneging on his pledge to address religious extremism, referring to the government’s “withdrawal” of support for a recent Bill — criminalising hate crimes — tabled after the May 6 explosion targeting him. “When the conservative religious parties who are part of a political alliance with the government objected, the government withdrew support for its own Bill,” the statement said, naming the Adhaalath party.
His comments come amid growing tensions within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) over the government’s policies, mainly on corruption and religious extremism. While some MPs back President Solih’s “restrained” approach that they find politically prudent, other, disgruntled members support Mr. Nasheed’s “bold” ways. The friction seen within the top echelons of the Maldivian government that is facing the pandemic’s blow and incumbency has set off speculation over political stability in Indian Ocean island nation.
Mr. Nasheed was critically injured in the May 6 incident that police called a “terror attack”, and has since undergone multiple surgeries in Male, before being flown to Germany for further treatment. In his first media remarks since the blast, Mr. Nasheed, currently in the U.K., told The Hindu over telephone that “pandering to extremists” is often deemed necessary for political expedience in the Maldives, especially during polls.
“We have had three elections under the new Constitution. The MDP won twice — in 2008 and 2018, and President Yameen’s PPM won in 2013. All three victories were possible only with the extremist vote.” But, the tendency could take the country to a “dangerous place” in the next few years, he warned, adding: “Look at Afghanistan today.” Emphasising that he has nothing against President Solih, his “very good friend”, Mr. Nasheed said he did not want the MDP to split, although some fear Mr. Nasheed’s actions could divide the party.
“As long as I am there, I will make sure that doesn’t happen.” All the same, he said those committed to moderate values must come together in a common platform. “And that could include the PPM too,” he said, despite his differences with the political rival and jailed former President, Mr. Yameen. On his own ambitions to run for the country’s top office in 2023, Mr. Nasheed said: “Well, I have merely indicated that I have not resigned yet, and that I am available.”
According to MDP spokesman and legislator Imthiyaz Fahmy, there is no imminent threat to the party’s unity, but the differences within pose a challenge. Mr. Nasheed, he said, is “really concerned about the government’s lukewarm reaction” to the terror attack, and its response to growing Islamist extremism in the country. “The very ideology and principles that the MDP stands for have been sidelined by the government, according to President Nasheed, and he believes that is detrimental to the party,” he said.
Meanwhile, some legislators in the party are increasingly disillusioned, according to MP Mickail Naseem, in whose view President Solih’s pledge to address religious extremism and ensure justice for past victims of their violent attacks has been “overshadowed” by this intention to keep the ruling coalition intact.
Following President Solih’s victory in 2018 , the MDP secured a landslide win in the 2019 general elections. The MDP has 65 MPs in the 87-member People’s Majlis, and is in alliance with the Jumhooree Party, with three MPs [after recent realignment of 2 others], and the Adhaalath party that has no representation in the legislature. The Opposition is led by a combine of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the People’s National Congress (PNC), or broadly, former President Abdulla Yameen’s political camp.
Following pressure from religious conservatives within government, President Solih backed down on the Bill, Mr. Naseem said. “This also impacts the murder cases of Ahmed Rilwan [journalist] and Yameen Rasheed [blogger] as well. The lack of urgency on the part of the government in tackling the root cause of the May 6 attack is worrying some of us,” he told The Hindu .
But others such as Jeehan Mahmood do not think President Solih has gone back from any of his commitments. While acknowledging Mr. Nasheed’s concerns as “very real”, the MDP legislator, who is also on the parliamentary committee on human rights, pointed to “bold steps” taken by President Solih’s government to combat religious extremism, including undertaking operations in islands to identify such groups, and pressing charges against suspects.
“It is not correct to say the President is under pressure from coalition partners. It is really a commitment he made when he assumed office to work with this coalition. He will not be the one to break it,” she said. “If he had succumbed to what some call pressure, then the Bill would not have come to Parliament in the first place. It has only gone to the committee stage now and will be taken up after wide consultation. President Solih is not stepping back from any of his promises.”