The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is grappling with a possible wave of defections from its parliamentary group, some media outlets have reported. This comes in the wake of the party’s decision to hold primaries for the forthcoming parliamentary elections, a move that sparked discontent among some parliamentarians.

On Monday, the MDP confirmed the departure of Ibrahim Shareef, also known as “Mavota Shareef,” the MP for Maradhoo and a long-serving party member. Shareef’s exit has ignited speculation that several other MPs have also decided to part ways with the party. While some reports suggest that six MPs have decided to leave, government-aligned media sources put the number closer to 15.

The MDP’s parliamentary primaries are slated for 26 and 27 January, with internal party registrations open until 25 December. Some MPs have pressured the party to hand them tickets to contest the parliamentary elections without a primary. However, under the interim leadership of former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the party has decided to adhere to the democratic process of granting tickets through internal primaries. This decision has reportedly incensed six MPs, prompting their decision to leave the party.

While speculation is rife over Shareef’s decision to exit the party, his departure was followed by a decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to break protocol and extend the posting of Shareef’s daughter at the High Commission of the Maldives in Malaysia. Mariyam Mizna Shareef will continue to serve as the Deputy Higher Commissioner in Malaysia until March 2024, according to media reports. A letter from the foreign ministry confirming this decision was leaked on social media, and some media outlets have reported that the foreign ministry has confirmed the letter’s authenticity.

While some reports quote Shareef as stating that his decision to leave the MDP was to make room for national development and that he was acting on the wishes of his constituents, political observers have raised questins about Shareef’s true motives.

Media reports cite some MDP leadership figures as saying that Shareef has recently been critical of the party’s decisions. Among Shareef’s grievances are; the party’s failure to acknowledge his contributions, refusal to grant him the party ticket without a primary, and decision not to appoint him to a leadership role.

It is unusual for the new government to extend the postings of political appointees in diplomatic missions who were appointed by previous administrations. Following the inauguration of President Mohamed Muizzu on 17 November, his government swiftly wrote to all Maldives’ high commissions and embassies abroad, issuing a directive for a large number of political appointees in various diplomatic postings to return to the country.

Aside from Shareef’s situation, there are also allegations that some MDP parliamentarians plan to defect to the ruling Progressive Congress Coalition, specifically the People’s National Congress (PNC). While some reports say Shareef has denied claims that he intends to join the PNC, he has also stated that he wishes to retire from politics.

Despite the internal turmoil, the MDP, which has 55 members in parliament and thus a clear majority, plans to contest all constituencies in the upcoming parliamentary elections slated for early next year. The party is also intensifying its preparations for the polls.