The ‘supreme figurehead’ of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and People’s National Congress (PNC), jailed former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has raised discontent over his coalition’s presidential candidate Dr Mohamed Muizzu. 

Local media reports captured palpable tension at the courthouse where former President Yameen’s appeal hearing on charges of bribery and money laundering took place, indicating looming division within the largest opposition coalition. 

Reports, citing Yameen’s close aides who were with him at the courthouse and spoke on condition of anonymity, indicate that he instructed them to ensure Muizzu stays aligned with the party’s ethos, warning that Muizzu might be “shooting himself in the foot.” Yameen’s comments refer to a recent interview conducted by the local newspaper Adhadhu, in which Muizzu articulated plans to govern independently of Yameen should he win the presidential elections slated for 9 September.

“Given the current political landscape of our party, if Muizzu decides to sideline me and proceed alone, it’s likely that he will lose the election,” Yameen was quoted as saying to MPs Mohamed Saeed and Ahmed Thoriq who were present at the courthouse.

Adhadhu reported that Yameen offered scathing critiques of Muizzu, describing him as an unpopular figure. “Who even knows Muizzu? Has he ventured outside of Male’?” Yameen reportedly stated. “He is sabotaging his own chances.”

Former President Yameen at a court hearing

Speaking during the interview, Muizzu noted that aside from the initial directive to boycott the elections, he had received no further communication from Yameen. Thus, the message delivered in the courtroom may represent the first official guidance from Yameen to his coalition’s chosen candidate.

PPM and PNC, who see Yameen as their supreme authority, is heavily reliant on the platform that Yameen himself would be its supreme authority, regardless of where he is. 

Muizzu’s campaign is also under the banner of Yameen with his photo and name appearing on all campaign material. 

This emerging schism marks an unprecedented development within the PPM/PNC coalition, which had previously demonstrated unwavering support for Yameen. The fissure became noticeable when Yameen advocated for a boycott of the elections after the Supreme Court upheld the Elections Commission’s decision to bar him due to his current criminal conviction.

Former President Dr Mohamed Waheed, who had expected to assume candidacy should Yameen be ineligible, has since left the party and has vociferously criticised its internal dynamics.

These apparent factions are compounded by Muizzu’s pledges to work alongside the PNC to increase its membership in time for the parliamentary elections next year.

Given the coalition’s dependency on member support for Yameen, this upcoming election will serve as a litmus test for whether its grassroots membership, which had previously rallied behind Yameen, will endorse a different candidate.

Three former presidents have been able to amass an almost cult-like following – Presidents Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Mohamed Nasheed – although the latter two’s numbers have markedly dwindled in recent years.