Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has called on members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to be more realistic in their aims for collaborative development during a visit to Bangladesh this week.
Gayoom, who was invited to the country by the University of Science and Technology of Chittagong (USTC) to attend a convocation scheduled for tomorrow (June 29), was reported to have asked SAARC leaders to be “practical” and outline more achievable developments in the region, according to the local Daily Star newspaper.
While unaware of the exact purpose of Gayoom’s visit, which has included meeting Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, parliamentary supporters of the former president claimed that the apparent statesman-like nature of his comments did not signify a return to active politics beyond attempts to try and settle divides within the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) that he helped found.
Outside of the domestic political sphere, the 73-year old former head of state has this week been speaking to local media about his own concerns on the importance of addressing issues like climate change and higher education, along with outlining what he perceives as the main challenges facing SAARC nations.
Gayoom said he believed that technical limitations and issues of resources had set SAARC members back in the “very high goals” set by each nation, though he said he believed the organisation had not failed in its plans and had great potential – particularly from regional enterprise.
“There must be more cooperation among the private sector of the SAARC countries,” the Daily Star quoted him as saying.
A spokesperson for President Mohamed Nasheed, who in 2008 successfully unseated Gayoom after 30 years in power during the country’s first ever democratic general elections, was not available for comment at the time of going to press on the visit.
Gayoom retired from active politics in early 2010, appointing MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali as leader of the country’s main opposition party.
The former president remains a divisive figure in Maldivian life and politics following 30 years of autocratic rule that has inspired fierce support and criticism in equal measure depending on individual political persuasion in the country.
However, MP DRP Ahmed Mahlouf, who along with Gayoom has been linked to the factional Z-DRP movement that now opposes incumbent party leader Thasmeen, said the former president remained a popular figure among SAARC member states for his work in the field of regional development.
“He has done a lot for the region and I wouldn’t be surprised if SAARC leaders praise him for his efforts,” he said.
Despite his reputation, Mahlouf said that the visit to Bangladesh should not be seen as an indication that Gayoom would run for president in 2013, adding that the former president had shown no interest to change his mind on retiring from front line politics.
“[Gayoom] has not really been commenting much on the current government despite concerns he has. Right now he is working to try his best and solve disputes within the DRP, something Thasmeen is trying to prevent,” he claimed.
“I would like to see him form a new party under his own image.”