Republican Party Becomes Largest Opposition Group In Parliament
By Olivia Lang and Shauna Aminath in Malé
August 7, 2008


The recently founded Republican Party has become the largest opposition group in the People’s Majlis (parliament) after three more parliamentarians announced they have joined, bringing the total up to nine.

The new party’s political clout looks set to continue growing after former finance minister Gasim Ibrahim, one of the richest men in the Maldives, joined at 8am Thursday morning, indicating he would be prepared to divest his business interests in order to run as the party’s presidential candidate.

At a press conference later on Thursday, party officials announced that MPs Abdullah Jabir, Mohamed Shihab and Mohamed Ibrahim Didi (Mody), have all signed up, along with three former members of the constitutional assembly and a former presidential appointee to parliament.

Reports also indicate former justice minister Mohamed Muiz Adnan has registered.

Parliament

Two out of the three new parliamentarians are former members of the largest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), with the other, Jabir, a former member of the government’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP).

As part of a shift apparently triggered by the ratification of the country’s new constitution, Mohamed Waheed, Faisal Naseem and Ali Faiz, all elected members of the constitutional assembly until it was dissolved Thursday morning, have also been recruited to the Republicans.

And Dhiyana Saeed, a former presidential appointee and wife of Jabir, has also said she has registered.

Former Justice Minister Mohamed Muiz Adnan joined on Thursday afternoon, a reliable source told Minivan News, but Muiz Adnan has not confirmed this.

MP Mohamed Aslam and MDP president Mohamed Munnavar – who was divested of his MDP duties in June after failing to appear at the party office – were seen at the Republican Party office on Thursday and are suspected to be signing up, but have not made their decision public.

And party officials denied MP Ahmed “Sun Travel” Shiyam had joined, but told the press: “We only want to give their names when we are with them.”

Prior to Thursday, both the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – the largest opposition party in terms of membership numbers – and the Republicans had six MPs.

Republicans

Speaking to Minivan News on Thursday morning, Jabir said he had left the government’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) but said he was undecided about whether he would join the Republicans.

“I’ll see who is the leader of the Republican Party and what is their agenda. How many members they have, what is their programme. I will make a decision in a few days,” he said.

But by late Thursday afternoon, his membership of the Republican Party was made public.

While previously unclear about the new party’s aims and values, party officials said on Thursday: “Our party will be issue-based. We have no problems with joining the National Unity Alliance [of opposition groups]. We are working for the national cause - if that is what we need to do, we will do it.”

Candidacy

Nashid told press the party was undecided on a presidential nominee, saying its national congress would decide, but said the Republicans would hold no primary.“We will have someone that does not need campaigning,” he reiterated Thursday.

“We will only select someone who will be easily marketable to the public,” Jabir added, also saying he did not rule out trying for the presidential candidacy himself.

Journalists questioned whether selection of a candidate could be a democratic process if the party already had someone in mind, but Nashid said only that congress would make a decision.

Challenged by journalists about Gasim’s involvement in the party, Gasim said: “This is not Gasim Ibrahim’s party,” whilst Nashid said the group had received no funds from Gasim. And Mody said, “our priority is not based on businesses.”

Since its formation was announced in May, the Republican Party has been widely associated with Gasim. But his move to join the party and make the link public was apparently prompted by the ratification of the constitution, meaning Gasim’s previous role as Speaker of the constitutional assembly was over.

Business

Gasim, who heads the Villa group of companies and is widely considered the wealthiest man in the country, has indicated he would be open to becoming a presidential candidate.

But Information Minister Mohamed Nasheed says Gasim is ineligible for the presidency, due to a regulation in the new constitution which forbids ministers from maintaining an “active involvement” in business.

And presidential candidate for the largest opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) said there were “many articles that are against business interests” in the constitution. He then launched a public attack on politicians with business interests at a televised MDP rally Thursday night.

“One of the major aims in this constitution was to separate personal business interests from the state…Of course he can transfer [his businesses], but it’s not what’s written on paper, it’s what you believe in. What you believe in will not change,” Anni told Minivan News.

But presidential candidate for the Social Liberal Party Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra), who was chair of the constitutional drafting committee, says he does not believe the clause would block Gasim from running.

Gasim told Minivan News:“I know what the constitution says. I headed the amendments. I know what is necessary to be done. Thasmeen [Ali, now Gayoom’s running mate] divested his business. If I will be in such a position, I would be prepared to do so.”


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