A letter from former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom denouncing the current leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) reflects the concerns of a wide number of members over the party’s opposition of government policies, such as the privatisation of Male’ International Airport, MP Ahmed Nihan has said.
The letter was linked to on Haveeru in Dhivehi. Minivan News is currently working on an English translation.
In the letter, Gayoom accuses Thasmeen of “dictatorial” characteristics and claimed he was writing the letter “in order to protect the Islamic faith of the Maldivian people and the sovereignty of the Maldives.”
Following his retirement from politics in February 2010, Gayoom endorsed Thasmeen as his successor to the leadership of the opposition. Thasmeen was then appointed to the leadership unopposed during the party’s congress.
However, after months of infighting between two factions – one loyal to Thasmeen and the other to dismissed Deputy Leader Umar Naseer – and speculation as to which side the party’s ‘Honorary Leader’ would back, Gayoom’s letter finally puts the former President’s card on the table.
“Disputes and conflicts always arise within the party, as you are leading the party against the democratic manners, and in a dictatorial way,” Haveeru translated Gayoom as saying.
Gayoom’s particular point of contention with Thasmeen was his “taking decisions without the advice of the party’s council and against the council’s decisions” – namely, an apparently unanimous decision made by 21 council members in an urgent meeting in on June 24, 2010, to fight the government’s leasing of Male’ International Airport to Indian infrastructure giant GMR.
“Decisions are being taken on force and on your influence on several organs of the party, outside the system of the party. This should not be the case in a party that is being run on values of democracy and transparency,” Gayoom said.
The former President criticises Thasmeen for the party’s dismissal of Umar Naseer, accusing his of having “a personal grudge” against Naseer. Gayoom said he had requested Thasmeen resolve his difficulties with Naseer outside the Council, and retract his request with the Elections Commission to remove Naseer from the party.
“I was given the short answer of ‘out of the question’. Your answer proved to me that you have a personal grudge towards this particular Deputy Leader, Umar Naseer, as you have not taken an action against the other Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed, who was involved in the matter to the same extent as Umar Naseer,” Gayoom stated.
“I believe that every political leader should be free-minded and patient in order to be able to live with people of different ideas. It is democracy. I believe that the severe action taken by you against the Deputy Leader [Umar Naseer] proves the small scope of your political views,” Gayoom said, in Haveeru’s article.
Gayoom also attacks Thasmeen for contributing only Rf300,000 (US$23,300) to his campaign for the 2008 Presidential election – a campaign Gayoom said cost Rf33 million (US$2.6 million), and criticised him for not accompanying Gayoom’s son Ghassan on his campaign trip to Thaa Atoll during his bid for the Thimarafushi constituency in the 2009 parliamentary election.
Gayoom further accused Thasmeen of trying to damage his reputation by following the recommendations of a British public relations firm, The Campaign Company (TCC). The same firm was used by Hassan Saeed, leader of the minority opposition and now coalition partner Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), during a PR trip to the UK last year in a bid to gain international support for the opposition. The firm employed an individual named Peter Craske to arrange meetings with politicians and journalists, who falsely presented the DQP as “an alliance between the DRP and MDP parties.” Craske later acknowledged the error in an email letter to Minivan News.
Gayoom claimed that TCC’s cofounder, Jonathan Upton, visited the Maldives and recommended that Thasmeen sideline him.
“[Upton] did not have any idea of the views of the Maldivian people and the political situation of the Maldives. His recommendation to keep me aside, without knowing the support of the majority of the Maldivian people as they have seen the development and changes during my presidency, was not a politically mature recommendation,” Gayoom said. “You are showing characteristics that cannot be prevented after being deceived by the words of people who are unaware of the political scenario of this country.”
The letter puts the writing on the wall for Thasmeen and is likely to split the opposition’s membership. There was heightened speculation this week that the party would actually split into two parties and potential names were reportedly being circulated among MPs through SMS – however the fight for the right to keep the DRP’s name is likely only beginning. Thasmeen is showing no sign of bowing to the wishes of the former President, and has already told local media that he considers the letter “slanderous” and dared Gayoom to make it public.
Thasmeen’s ability to use his democratic mandate – though unopposed, he was still elected – to survive the factional struggle within the opposition will serve as a bellweather both for the extent Gayoom’s continuing influence in the Maldives and the potential for Maldivian parties to mature beyond personality politics. However if Thasmeen remains, the split opposition could mean an easy re-election for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in 2013, given the party preferences in the recent local council elections.
DRP MP Nihan, who said he is yet to fully read the leader sent by Gayoom, believes Gayoom’s correspondence reflects dissatisfaction among a number of “ordinary members” during the last ten to eleven months concerning the leadership of his successor.
Thasmeen was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press concerning the letter. However in response he has written his own letter stating that he will “stand firm and with full confidence” of winning the presidential election 2013.
“In my trips to more than 100 islands during the local council election campaign, members of the party, heads of the party’s wings and supporters have assured me of giving their full cooperation and have asked me to continue with this work,” Thasmeen said in a letter, translated by Haveeru.
Earlier this week, DRP MPs from both sides of the spat said they believed a split within the party appeared imminent; with some members even considering potential names for new political bodies as internal divisions and infighting between factions has continued to escalate.
These factions relate in part to a war of words between the supporters of Thasmeen and dismissed Deputy Leader Umar Naseer that has continued to escalate, at times, into violent confrontations over the legitimacy of decisions taken by the party’s council, such as the latter’s removal.
In light of these divides, Nihan said he believed the letter, without having read it in detail, was not so much part of a vendetta against Thasmeen from factional rivals in the party, but a reflection of complaints that Gayoom has received from party members dating back almost a year.
“There have been reports received by Mr Gayoom as to what has been seen as mismanagement on the part of Thasmeen,” he said. “Ordinary members of the party are very unsatisfied with party leadership and they have complained to Maumoon [Gayoom] about this.”
One of the key issues Nihan stressed that was behind the complaints levelled against Thasmeen had been in the work of the party to hold the government accountable for its actions, particularly in terms of deals such as the decision to allow Indian infrastructure giant GMR to manage and devlope a new terminal building at Male’ International Airport.
“Like with the GMR issues, there is a sense that Thasmeen hasn’t done enough to oppose this,” he said. “The divided thinking in the party has really been seen in the last six months from around when the airport was handed over [to GMR] in November.”
DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali told Minivan News in November that a coalition of political parties formed in opposition to the GMR airport deal remained committed to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) focusing on legal recourse to try and prevent the privatisation agreement.
“We simply believe the deal is not in our national or security interests,” Thasmeen said. “With the privatisation of other [existing or soon to be] international airports in the north and south of the country, the state will not have an airport under its control.”
Thasmeen soon came under fire amidst allegations that both himself and fellow party member and Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid has taken bribes from GMR to hinder opposition to the deal. Both politicians and GMR have denied the allegations, which they claimed were a complete “fabrication” by political opponents.