Ex-leader of Maldives plans return to contest elections

Ex-leader of Maldives plans return to contest elections

Former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed poses during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Friday. — AFP
Former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed poses during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, on Friday. — AFP

PARK CITY, United States — He faces jail in the Maldives but former President Mohamed Nasheed says he wants to contest elections and guide the island nation away from environmental catastrophe.

Nasheed became the first democratically elected president of the Maldives in 2008, but lives in exile in London after he was jailed on terrorism charges that he says were politically motivated.

“I don’t think I can return home without risks. I don’t think there will ever be a time for that,” the 49-year-old said during a visit to the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.

“I guess I’ll have to take the risks and do it, if I were to do it.”

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 in September 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.

“We are still working on it. What we would really like to see is a free and fair election — not necessarily changing the government now,” he said.

“I don’t think we will have a free and fair election as things stand now. So we will have to have the whole opposition together and come out with a single candidate.”

Once a honeymoon paradise before its tourism industry was shaken by political unrest, the Indian Ocean island chain could be underwater by 2100, according to the United Nations.

“It’s already happening in the Maldives, it isn’t something that is going to happen. We are already going through it,” said Nasheed, adding that 16 of the 196 inhabitable islands already needed to be evacuated.

Nasheed is pushing for the Maldives to use its own resources, rather than international aid, to bolster its defenses against rising seas and coastal erosion.

“To do that, we must have investor confidence, for us to bring the money into the country. It is my view that we have enough resources,” he said.

Investment has stopped because of corruption, he says, citing what he describes as the unlawful termination of construction contracts by Yameen’s government.

In October last year the country was ordered by an arbitration panel in Singapore to pay Indian construction firm GMR $270 million after canceling a contract to build the airport near Male.

Nasheed says the government reneged on the deal to allow another company paying big backhanders to step in.

A crackdown on political dissent in the nation of 340,000 has dented its popular image as an upmarket holiday paradise in recent years.

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.

Nasheed was jailed for 13 years in 2015 but granted prison leave last year for medical treatment in London, where he secured political asylum. — AFP