Undeterred by an attempt on his life, former President vows to return stronger
The chatter in Dhivehi was hard to follow, but the outcome they desired was clear. They wanted to see the common oppositional candidate from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) win the crucial presidential election. Watching the developments intently, but calmly, was former President and exiled leader Mohamed Nasheed. He had played a critical role in that poll, strategising with the MDP-led eclectic oppositional alliance, and remotely campaigning from Colombo. His party colleague Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s decisive victory against incumbent Abdulla Yameen, widely regarded an authoritarian leader, gave the Maldives another chance with democratising the Sunni Muslim nation that is home to over 500,000 people.
“Destiny has a habit of always choosing the right and the good. When history is on the march, you can’t stop it. President Yameen has to go,” he told The Hindu that night, after finally achieving the regime change that his camp had been attempting for some time. In the international arena, Mr. Nasheed is best known as the Indian Ocean archipelago’s first democratically elected (2008-2012) President, who was controversially ousted and convicted on terrorism charges that the Maldivian Supreme Court later deemed wrongful and quashed. He shot to global fame as a climate hero in 2009, when his government held the world’s first underwater Cabinet meeting. In the realm of domestic politics, Mr. Nasheed, 53, is arguably the country’s most charismatic politician, consistently speaking out against religious extremism and corruption.
A week after the MDP alliance’s big election win in 2018, Mr. Nasheed landed in Male, ending three years of exile, as huge crowds thronged the streets to welcome him back. Barely three years since — during which time the ruling alliance won the parliamentary elections, and Mr. Nasheed was appointed Speaker of the People’s Majlis or Parliament — he was targeted in a deadly explosion in the capital 10 days ago. Mr. Nasheed survived, although with serious injuries, and is currently receiving treatment in Germany. The police arrested three suspects allegedly involved in the “terror attack” that they have linked to religious extremists. While observers have flagged religious extremists, corrupt individuals, and political rivals as forces hostile to the ex-President, the motivations or actors behind the May 6 attack remain unknown, with no one claiming it as yet.
The assassination bid targeting Mr. Nasheed not only exposed security threats within the country, but also came at a politically challenging time for Mr. Solih who is confronted with mounting criticism and a relentless pandemic imperilling its economy. The local council election in April was a reality check — despite beating the opposition in total, the party lost its traditionally held mayoral seat in the capital. However, the party’s problems did not stop Mr. Nasheed from constantly pressuring the government to act on corruption allegations, including those against its own. The Speaker openly accused senior Cabinet Ministers of corruption, in an act that his critics saw as a deliberate effort to embarrass and discredit President Solih. Some party insiders sensed a deepening rift within the MDP and hoped Mr. Nasheed does not “rock the boat”.
The ex-President’s political ambitions are no secret, as his pet demand for the Maldives to transition to a parliamentary system of governance shows. Soon after the local council election last month, Mr. Nasheed confronted President Solih on the subject, reportedly conveying his desire to lead the country as Prime Minister. President Solih, seen as a leader more amenable to the MDP’s diverse alliance partners, maintains that the system of governance could be changed only by the citizens’ will.
Meanwhile, the recent, targeted terror attack has put political debates on hold, and national security under the spotlight. Mr. Nasheed himself was shocked, according to his family members. “We don’t know who did this, but what we know is Nasheed is not safe here. Those who wanted to eliminate him will see this as a job unfinished,” Ibrahim Nashid, brother of the former President, told The Hindu from Male. But that is unlikely to deter Mr. Nasheed, who has vowed to return stronger. Ahead of his departure to Berlin, he told nurses treating him at a Male hospital: “I have already planned my comeback speech”.
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