COLOMBO: Exiled Maldives opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has said he is in talks with the former president, who repeatedly threw him in jail, to “legally topple” the current leader of the troubled honeymoon islands.
Nasheed became the first democratically elected president of the Maldives in 2008, but now lives in exile in London after he was jailed on terrorism charges that he says were politically motivated.
In the past he has accused Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives for 30 years and is still regarded as the power behind the throne, of being behind his downfall.
But on Tuesday he indicated he wanted to bury the hatchet with Gayoom, amid reports of a rift between the former strongman leader and his half-brother, current President Abdulla Yameen.
“How can you build a future if you always want to go back to live in the past,” Nasheed told reporters in Colombo via a video link from London.
“Yameen’s days are numbered. He has lost the support of the people and the international community. We can restore democracy in the Maldives.”
Nasheed said he had forgiven Gayoom and was in talks with his faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) “for a new political alignment”.
He did not disclose details, but said he had visited Colombo late last month to meet fellow dissidents and map out a strategy to “legally topple” Yameen.
He served repeated jail terms under Gayoom’s autocratic leadership before winning the country’s first democratic election in 2008.
There was no immediate comment from Gayoom, however, and diplomats in Colombo were cautious about the prospect of such an alliance.
“The opposition was expecting Gayoom to get a section of his party to withdraw support for Yameen late last month, but for some reason that did not happen,” said one western diplomatic source in Colombo, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“It is not easy for the opposition to organise any agitation inside the country because all their leaders are either in jail or in exile.”
An alliance between the 78-year-old Gayoom and Nasheed was unthinkable even a few months ago.
Gayoom who ruled the country for 30 straight years till 2008, was accused of engineering Nasheed’s downfall in 2012.
Nasheed said he was forced to step down following a mutiny by police and security forces after weeks of anti-government protests in the capital island Male.
The former president does not hold any office in the current administration, but is said to command the loyalty of a majority of the 33 PPM legislators in the 85-member majlis, or parliament.
But an intensifying crackdown on political dissent in the atoll nation of 340,000 people has dented its popular image as an upmarket holiday paradise.
Almost all key opposition leaders and a number of ruling party dissidents have either been jailed or gone into exile since Yameen took office after winning a controversial run-off election against Nasheed in 2013.
Last week police in the Maldives raided the offices of the Maldives Independent website hours after Al Jazeera aired a documentary accusing Yameen and his government of corruption.
The website’s editor had been quoted in the documentary.
In July, Gayoom’s daughter Dunya Maumoon quit as foreign minister saying she did not agree with a plan to bring back the death penalty after nearly seven decades.
Nasheed was jailed for 13 years in 2015 but granted prison leave earlier this year for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum.
A UN panel has ruled that his imprisonment was illegal and ordered the regime to pay him compensation.
The United States has said democracy is under threat in the strategically located archipelago, which sits on key international shipping lanes.
Yameen’s spokesman Ibrahim Hussain Shihab has said there are differences within the ruling party, but that these are not serious.
Asked on Tuesday whether Gayoom would help bring down his own half brother, Nasheed replied: “Half brothers hitting at each other is Maldives politics.”