Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan has claimed Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s rumoured switch to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was now a “forgone conclusion”.
Nihan told Minivan News today he was not surprised about recent speculation linking Speaker Shahid with a switch from the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) to the opposition MDP – claiming his fellow PPM MPs had suspected his “alignment” with the MDP for at least the last twelve months.
Ongoing media speculation this week over the speaker’s political allegiance has seen high-profile politicians such as former President Mohamed Nasheed publicly discussing Shahid’s potential switch to the MDP. The DRP meanwhile have maintained that it has not been officially informed of any switch.
A parliamentary source within the MDP on condition of anonymity today confirmed by SMS that the speaker was expected to be joining the opposition party, claiming: “yes, speaker [is] moving”.
However, this afternoon party officials were refusing to acknowledge any such switch when contacted by Minivan News. The MDP did nonetheless maintain that it would welcome a senior politician such as Shahid into their ranks ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September this year.
Shahid, who has not officially confirmed whether he intends to either switch parties or remain with the DRP, was not responding to calls at time of press.
Addressing the current uncertainty over the speaker’s affiliations, PPM MP Nihan said today that his party believed speculation over Shahid’s switch remained just a rumour.
“As far as we are concerned, on Tuesday (April 9) MP Riyaz Rasheed asked for confirmation in the Majlis from the speaker [about whether he would be switching parties]”. No official response was given,” Nihan said.
“I cannot confirm this myself, but the rumour [of a switch in parties] has been there for a long-time. We’ve been hearing a lot of news that Shahid might be leaving the DRP over political differences, but I cannot exactly say anything on that.”
Nihan said that he had worked with Shahid for many years and personally found him to be very capable in his position as speaker. He added that he was not sure how his fellow party members or other government-aligned MPs might view a decision to switch to the opposition.
Nihan also stated that with the DRP having been “very silent” on political issues in the current climate, he believed it might be “quite reasonable” for Shahid’s career progression that he look to transfer to a different party.
Nihan claimed that the current “ground reality” in Maldivian politics ahead of upcoming presidential elections was a two-way divide between either former President Mohamed Nasheed’s MDP or former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s PPM.
Following recent campaigning for the party on Fuvahmulah, Nihan claimed that a number supporters of both his own party and the MDP had recently welcomed representatives from both parties to the island in significant numbers. He questioned whether the DRP would have similar support by comparison.
Speaking to Minivan News today, DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef said that there had been no official word from the speaker on his political intentions at time of press.
Shareef said that ultimately, losing any high-profile politician from a political party was always a huge loss for its supporters.
“It seems it is the reality of life and politics that loyalty does not run deep,” he said. “But we will move on as a party and continue to stand by our key principles.”
Shareef added that the Maldives remained a young democracy and that the DRP would continue to look for the “best way forward” for its members whatever happens.
“It is understandable in this climate that there will be a realignment in the coming days and months within political parties,” he added.
Addressing the rumours of Shahid switching parties this week, former President Mohamed Nasheed was reported in local media as claiming the MDP to be the only party “fully informed” about the Maldives and its future developments – making it attractive for other politicians to join them.
“We know what the Maldives is. Maldivian Democratic Party knows the Maldives well. Maldivian Democratic Party is the political party that knows the history of the Maldives, the seas of the Maldives, the palm trees, and everything related to the Maldives,” he was quoted as saying in Sun Online.
“That’s why we hear stories about Abdullah Shahid joining us. Everyone who knows the Maldives and wants to work with the people of the Maldives towards the development of the country, will join our party.”
MDP MP and Spokesperson Ahmid Abdul Ghafoor today said that only Shahid himself could confirm if he would be joining the MDP, adding he personally did not wish to “pre-empt” any statements that might be made on the issue.
Hamid nonetheless reiterated Nasheed’s earlier claims that that the MDP was the only party that could serve to attract politicians wanting to make a difference in the country.
He said that should the parliamentary speaker decide to join the opposition party, it would represent a “major shift” in the country’s political landscape.
Earlier this week, local media reported that government-aligned MPs Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, MP Ali Azim and MP Hassan Adil were also rumoured to be preparing to join the MDP.
Speaker Shahid, Ali Azim and Nasheed are all from the DRP. The supposed reason for their defection, as reported in local media, was a clash within the party’s parliamentary group over its stand on recently scheduled no-confidence motion against Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.
A source in the MDP familiar with the matter previously alleged to Minivan News that the defection of the MPs was prompted after DRP Leader MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali brokered a “last minute deal” with the government in return for DRP not voting against the minister.
According to a 2010 report by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem, loans totalling MVR1 billion, taken out by Fonadhoo Tuna and luxury yachting company Sultans of the Sea, both connected to to DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, had yet to see any repayments.
Together the loans accounted for 13 per cent of the total amount loaned by the bank in 2008. Naeem commented at the time that defaults on bank loans issued to “influential political players” could jeopardise the entire financial system of the country.
DRP MPs Mohamed Nashiz and Ali Azim were summoned to court in November 2012 regarding the debts, just as parliament was voting to determine whether no-confidence motions against ministers could be taken in secret.
Those summons were in relation to a Civil Court ordering Mahandhoo Investments and Kabalifaru Investments – two companies with ties to Thasmeen – to repay millions of dollars worth of loans to the Bank of Maldives Plc Ltd (BML). The verdict was also upheld by the High Court in October 2011.
MP Azim alleged at the time that President Dr Mohamed Waheed and other senior members of the executive had approached him and offered to cancel the court summons if he agreed to vote for the secret balloting in a way they preferred.
According to one MDP source, ahead of a no-confidence motion scheduled for April 8, 2013, the DRP had “in principle agreed” to vote against the minister, but had changed their minds at the last minute.
Speaker Abdulla Shahid was “left no choice but to call off the session”.
Shahid called off the parliamentary session following point of orders taken by opposition MDP MPs over the issue of the secret ballot, which the Supreme Court had overturned despite parliament’s earlier vote in favour.
Earlier this month, Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Ahmed Nazim officially completed his switch from the government-aligned People’s Aliance (PA) party to the PPM. The PPM is also a member of President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s coalition government.
Abdulla Yameen, half brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and a founder of the PA party, is now the PPM’s candidate for this year’s presidential elections.