Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has announced he will run for the presidency in 2023 and has pledged to back President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom for re-election in 2018.
“I am not a political threat to President Yameen. I am ready to work to help President Yameen get re-elected to presidency in 2018. What I may have said before, and the competition that existed between us before is a completely different matter. That has come to an end,” he said in an interview on state broadcaster Television Maldives’ Friday variety show ‘Heyyambo.’
Naseer lost to Yameen in the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) presidential primaries in 2013 and alleged the primaries were rigged. He accused Yameen of illicit connections with gangs and the illegal drug trade and vowed to bring a “white revolution” within the party.
The PPM expelled Naseer from the party and he backed Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim in the 2013 presidential elections. Naseer was appointed to the cabinet when Gasim’s backing proved crucial in PPM’s second round win.
Speaking on Heyyambo, Naseer said Yameen will “have no reason to contest again” by 2023 and said he himself will run for the presidency then. The Maldives constitution limits presidential terms to two five year terms.
Naseer ran for the presidency in 2008 and won 2,472 votes.
Naseer expressed confidence that he will be able to sort out any differences within the government coalition, pointing to his prior experience working with Yameen and Gasim.
Friction within the coalition became apparent with Gasim warning the PPM against betrayal in a rally on April 13.
But Naseer asserted that Yameen and Gasim are working together in the national interest.
He also dismissed competitive words exchanged between the two coalition partners in the lead up to the 2013 presidential elections as “an attempt to choose the best leader from among those sharing the same ideology”, and said personal ambition has now “taken a backseat and national interest is what drives [us] today”.
“Although we walked over each other in the race to select a leader amongst those of us who holds the same ideology, once we have come out to the actual national race we have removed our personal jerseys and donned the national jersey. Today we are playing in the national uniform,” he said.
Naseer said he will amend laws which require police to present detainees to the Criminal Court with 24 hours of arrest and spoke of plans to extradite Maldivian offenders.
Maldivian offenders will not be able “to hide in any corner of the world,” Naseer said.
“No offender should delude themselves into thinking that they can flee from the Maldives and peacefully live elsewhere. That cannot be done. The first topic of discussion that I take up with leaders, Home Ministers and police leaders of every country I travel to is that in the instance there is a runaway Maldivian offender in the country, they should arrest them immediately and turn them over to the Maldivian authorities.”
He also spoke about a recent police raid where 79 youth were arrested from the island of Anbaraa during a musical festival, where all detained were reported to have tested positive for illicit drugs.
It is permissible for Maldivians to go on picnics, play loud music and have fun, Naseer said.
“But, there cannot be the abuse of drugs or consumption of alcohol. There cannot be DJs. If these kinds of things are being done, the police will go in and stop the activities. What I am saying is, you can party, but you cannot ‘Ambaraa'”.
Referring to the controversial order he had made unto the Maldives Correctional Services to implement death penalty, Naseer asserted that he had done so only on prior discussions with the President.
The Attorney General is currently drafting regulations for implementation of the death penalty on the cabinet’s request, he said. The government would only implement the death penalty if the Supreme Court upholds the sentence, he reiterated.
Speaking on the illegal drug trade, Naseer alleged that “powerful gangs from neighbouring countries” are involved in smuggling drugs into the Maldives.
Naseer identified population dispersion as the biggest obstacle for development and called for population consolidation.
“If the desired development is to be brought about, the approximately 400,000 inhabitants of this country will have to start living on three or five islands. We cannot bring the development otherwise,” he said.