President Mohamed Waheed’s maiden campaign trip to Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll was met by hundreds of angry protesters who came out in opposition to the government’s heavy crackdown on the island following Waheed’s controversial ascension to power on February 7.
President Waheed has launched his presidential campaign under the slogan “forward with the nation”, after unveiling Ahmed Thasmeen Ali – leader of government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) – as his running mate.
Waheed is backed by what he contends is a “broad-coalition” of political parties including his own party Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP), the DRP, Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and religiously conservative Adaalath Party (AP).
At present, Waheed and Thasmeen will be standing against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Yameen Abdul Gayoom – Gayoom’s half brother, and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed.
He is also expected to face a candidate from the government-aligned Jumhoree Party (JP), presently led by MP Gasim Ibrahim.
Following the scuffle on Thinadhoo – Waheed’s mother’s home island – the President expressed frustration over the incident on social media service Twitter, in which he blamed Nasheed and the MDP and declared that such actions “do not bear well for a free and fair election”.
Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru, Waheed’s party Gaumee Iththihaadh Party (GIP) spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza alleged a group of MDP supporters came out to protest against Waheed. Some protesters also assaulted MP Ibrahim Muthalib from the Adhaalath Party, he alleged.
Riza claimed that Muthalib was saved from the protesters after the police intervened and calmed the situation.
According to media reports, objects including water bottles were also seen thrown at Waheed.
Thinadhoo saw some of the strongest reactions to the February 8 crackdown on protesters in Male’, with government offices and police stations destroyed across the island. Islanders were also reported to have blockaded the arrival of police reinforcements for days afterwards.
Family members no longer speak to me: President Waheed
Speaking at a campaign rally on the island, Waheed conceded that several family members including those residing on the island no longer spoke with him after the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012.
Waheed acknowledged that one of the main reasons why some of his family members had deserted him was that he was now working closely with those who had strong affiliations with former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year autocratic regime. He said noted that his detractors included his own brothers and sisters, as well as cousins and nephews.
“It feels like they are trying to say that their brother doesn’t love them that much – and that is why he is working with people who we hate,” Waheed observed.
Waheed also spoke to the islanders about how his mother was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment following her mild criticism of Gayoom’s regime.
“As you would all know, back [during Gayoom’s regime] the political environment was such that criticising the government was a big crime. My mother while watching the TV said that Gayoom had lied. After that it was a very bitter experience,” he recalled.
“The poor lady was dragged to court, people gathered around her on the streets and pulled her hair, spat on her and committed other derogatory acts at that time in Male’.”
Waheed claimed that his mother never had any involvement in local politics and admitted that none of his family members would forget how Gayoom’s regime treated his mother.
Waheed said that despite this, the circumstances following the controversial resignation of former President Nasheed required him to take over the presidency. For that reason, Waheed said he had invited all political parties in the country to join his government.
“Among these [members of political parties] included those who caused such grief to my family. It is not that I don’t know who these people are, or that I chose to work with them. What was best for the country at that moment was for me to set aside my personal vengeance and to prioritise the country before my personal emotions,” he contended.
“Some of my family members could not take that. The result was that some of them, to this date, do not speak with me. Some of them even live in this island,” he said.
“Arriving in Thinadhoo gives me a bitter-sweet taste,” he added.
Nasheed’s arrest of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed led to 22-days of continuous anti-government protests initiated by religious scholars and opposition leaders. This culminated in a police and military mutiny and the controversial stepping-down of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 7, 2012.
Waheed – who was then vice-president – had shortly before the resignation publicly come out against Nasheed and joined the revolt, meeting key opposition party members in his residence at late hours the previous week.
Less than four hours after Nasheed resigned, Waheed took oath as the President, dismissed all Nasheed’s ministers and formed a coalition government with Nasheed’s political opponents.
Following the regime change, thousands of demonstrators came out in protest. Police retaliated with a brutal crackdown in front of international media.
The protests quickly spread across the country leading to arson attacks against government offices and the police stations.
“In essence, my statement is very small… I was forced to resign. I resigned under duress. I was threatened. If I did not resign within a stipulated period it would endanger mine and my family’s life. I understood they were going to harm a number of other citizens, party members. They were going to literally sack the town. I felt that I had no other option, other than to resign,” Nasheed told the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) that later investigated the transfer of power.
Despite the claim, the Commonwealth-backed CNI which included Waheed’s three hand-picked members, a Singaporean judge chosen by the government and a single representative from Nasheed who resigned in protest, dismissed allegations of a coup.
Subsequent legal analysis of the CNI final report by a team of high-profile Sri Lankan lawyers – including the country’s former Attorney General – accused the commission of exceeding its mandate, selectively gathering and acting upon evidence, and failing to adequately address the fundamental issue with which it was charged: determining whether former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned under duress.
Waheed has repeatedly dismissed the allegations and police have threatened to arrest anyone calling them ‘Baaghee’ (‘traitor’).