Formerly bitter political rivals united against the alleged “brutality” of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration at the first rally of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Adhaalath Party (AP) alliance tonight.
Addressing a crowd of thousands at the carnival area in Malé, all speakers at tonight’s rally – including AP President Sheikh Imran Abdulla, ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Didi, former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof and MDP leaders – stressed that they bore no grudge against each other.
President Yameen’s “brutality” included the jailing of the former President Mohamed Nasheed after an “unfair” trial, the “framing” of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, the targeting of Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses, and the “unconstitutional” removal of former Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim and former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain.
The current administration was also accused of rampant corruption and using criminal gangs to attack peaceful opposition protests after assuring wayward youth immunity from prosecution.
Several speakers suggested that the prevailing atmosphere of fear was unprecedented, but expressed defiance in the face of threats from government-backed gangs.
AP President Sheikh Imran said toppling the government was not the alliance’s intention and called for President Yameen to join “peace talks” with the opposition.
“Choosing another way is in President Yameen’s hands,” he said.
In a symbolic gesture, a chair in the front row was kept empty for Nasheed, who was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in prison last Friday (March 13).
As the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) official anthem song was used in between speeches, the defence ministry promptly put out a statement objecting to its use in a political rally.
“This institution believes that the use of the song for political purposes undermines the honour and dignity of the army,” the statement read.
MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, MDP parliamentary group leader, assured JP members that the party was “standing up in [Gasim’s] defence.” Last month, Gasim’s Villa Group was ordered to pay the state US$100 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines in 30 days.
As the government gears up to celebrate the upcoming golden jubilee of independence, all speakers contended that the Maldives was not free.
“Maldivians do not have independence as we celebrate 50 years of independence. Tonight, we start the fight for independence,” said JP Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim.
MP Ahmed Mahloof – who was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – said the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012 spawned bitter divisions in the country, which appeared far too wide to ever be bridged.
However, Mahloof said former rivals speaking at one rally indicated “today is worse than yesterday, and even worse is to come.”
He urged PPM supporters to consider why he would withdraw support for a party he had helped found and a president he had helped elect.
President Yameen after assuming power sided with gangs and repeatedly violated the constitution, he claimed.
Alleging corruption in the government, Mahloof said Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb bought a US$80,000 BMW and$100,000 ring for the first lady on her birthday, indicating President Abdulla Yameen encouraged embezzlement of state funds.
Reiterating his allegations of the government using gangs for “state-sponsored” crimes, Mahloof said he has “never felt this kind of fear.”
“Why? Because I know the atrocities this government has committed. This government is capable of such atrocities. I am now uncertain of my security,” he said.
In his first speech at a political rally, Adam Azim – former Defence Minister Nazim’s brother and former managing director of the State Trading Organisation (STO) – said he was not at the rally solely because his brother was under arrest.
“I’m here because I do not want my children or their children to live in this fear,” he said.
Azim praised former President Nasheed for his courage, determination, and lead role in ushering in democracy.
Expressing gratitude to the opposition leader for standing up in defence of Nazim – who had played a pivotal role in Nasheed’s resignation in February 2012 – Azim said Nasheed’s heart was “big enough” to contain the whole country.
As justice was not possible through Maldivian courts, Azim said the “only avenue left for justice is the streets.”
He said Nazim wishes to serve the public as Nasheed does and did not fear jail, calling on police and the military not to obey unlawful orders.
Azim also expressed concern with the dismissal of employees of state-owned enterprises for attending opposition protests and rallies, noting that their politically-appointed superiors were at the front lines of ruling party gatherings.
MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed meanwhile said President Yameen has betrayed and alienated his closest associates and allies, including former Defence Minister Nazim, who he said was the hardest working and most competent cabinet minister, and PPM MP Ahmed Nazim.
Parties on opposite ends of the political spectrum were setting aside ideological differences against President Yameen’s alleged attempts to destroy the multi-party system, he said, which has renewed hope and courage for the opposition.
The MDP’s top priority and the goal of the opposition movement was freeing Nasheed, he declared.
“We want to see the day Nasheed arrives at Republican Square a free man,” he said.
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