Maldives’ First Democratic Leader, Ex-Strongman Sign Pact

The first democratically elected president of the Maldives said Saturday that he has signed an agreement with his one-time archrival and former strongman to try to restore democracy in the archipelago state.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed told The Associated Press that the immediate goal of the agreement, which was also signed by two opposition party leaders, is to form a majority in a parliament now controlled by lawmakers supporting President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed said that as a result, they would be able to reform institutions like the elections commission and the judiciary, which he says are politicized, to enable a free and fair presidential election next year.

The 85-member parliament’s majority will be tested when a vote to oust the speaker is taken up on Monday. Currently there are 21 lawmakers supporting Nasheed and eight votes with the two other parties, which are party to the agreement.

Former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom runs a rival faction within the Progressive Party of Maldives, which is led by the current president, his half brother. The PPM has 48 lawmakers and the former strongman’s faction says it has enough support within the party to give the opposition a majority.

The agreement says that the parties will work to safeguard civil and political rights, ensure that free and fair elections are held, and ensure that those jailed on politically motivated charges are released.

Nasheed was jailed in 2015 for 13 years for ordering the arrest of a senior judge when he was president in 2012. However, he traveled to Britain last year on medical leave and received asylum there.

Three other leading politicians have also been jailed after trials criticized internationally for a lack of due process.

A 2015 constitutional amendment allowing foreigners to purchase land in the Maldives will also be reversed, Nasheed said. His party has accused President Gayoom of planning to sell 21 tiny islands to a member of the Saudi royal family.

Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled the Maldives with tight controls from 1978 to 2008. Nasheed, who was a pro-democracy activist, was jailed many times under his administration. Gayoom led democratic reforms in his later years as president and lost to Nasheed in the Maldives’ first democratic election, held in 2008.

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