Last week Thursday, the former Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer officially joined the second largest opposition party, Jumhoory Party (JP). The party’s deputy leader and Kinbidhoo MP Abdullah Riyaz had accepted his membership, and a ceremony was held at the party’s official hub ‘Kunooz’ to welcome him.
In his inaugural speech, Umar described JP as the “Kingmaker” of the Maldives, and noted how the party had helped elect two presidents of the country so far. However, he said that the party needs to shift from its role as the “Kingmaker” and embrace the role of “King”, and strive to become the ruling party.
He acknowledged that the party had faced some setbacks in the past and that it needs to change its direction if it wants a promising outcome in the presidential election slated for next year.
Umar, who had been a member of JP before, encouraged its leaders to stay with the opposition coalition and fully support its decision to nominate a single candidate to compete in the upcoming election. However, he was quick to highlight how the other coalition members had experienced being the “ruling party”, and that it is time to show Maldivians what a JP presidency is like. He said that if the opposition were allowed to implement JP’s leader Qasim Ibrahim’s philosophies, the Maldives would prosper with more education opportunities, a functioning judiciary and an increase in household incomes.
He also stated that if JP’s leader did not want to, or were unable to contest in the election, he would be interested in competing in a party primary for presidential candidacy, if the party holds such an election. However, he maintained that his key motive in joining the party was to help Qasim ascend to power. He added that he had no interest in competing for any top posts within JP.
Despite joining the opposition, Umar, who is famous for his harsh criticism against the largest opposition party, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – which is also a part of the opposition coalition along with JP – did not ease his criticism towards MDP.
Umar told Mihaaru that he would not participate in any opposition coalition meetings where MDP is represented, and said that he would not be seen mingling with any MDP leaders – naming former president Mohamed Nasheed in particular. Should JP decide to back an MDP candidate, he will withdraw from the party too, he added.
Umar Naseer was not received well by the leaders of MDP, or its supporters. MDP’s chairperson Hassan Latheef had quickly responded to MDP supporters who were publicly showing their disgruntlement on social media over one of “MDP’s greatest enemies” joining a part of the opposition.
Latheef assured via Twitter that the party would not let Umar impede MDP and any of its activities, or let him get close to the party in any way.
Further, since Umar had expressed interest in competing in a JP primary if its leader Qasim Ibrahim were unable to represent JP in the presidential election, Latheef had given Umar a friendly reminder of the party’s regulations; he had quoted the JP regulation which specifically states that only its leader can represent the party in a presidential election. He had then asked Umar to familiarise himself with the party’s regulations, and sent his best regards.
Other MDP leaders also echoed Latheef’s concern. One of MDP’s founders and Machangoalhi North MP Mariya Didi said that Umar was “too distant from the party system”, but assured the opposition coalition supporters that the two parties would continue working together.
She criticised his decision to openly declare his alignment with JP, and said that it proved how hostile he was to the party system.
“Umar is not just any guy. He’s been a political figure for a while; he was also the home minister and he is a very senior politician. But when he openly makes such remarks, it shows that he lacks political maturity,” MP Mariya said.
She also said that criticising other coalition partners shows how unfamiliar he is with the civic principles of a party system.
However, the disqualified MP of Thimarafushi constituency, Mohamed Musthafa, was the most vehement in his criticism towards Umar. He described the newest member of JP as a “parasite” and said that he is “not a solution” to the current political crisis the Maldives is facing.
Musthafa told Mihaaru that he had nothing personal against Umar, but that he did not believe that Umar exhibits the qualities of a leader that would be popular amongst the public.
JP leader Qasim responds
Despite the negativity surrounding Umar’s union with JP, the party’s leader Qasim Ibrahim assured that Umar joining his party would not affect the opposition coalition, or any of its work, in any way.
Qasim, who is currently in Germany seeking medical treatment after the state had declared him a fugitive, also took to Twitter to say that any particular person joining JP, despite a difference in ideologies, would not hinder any of its reform plans made together with the joint opposition, and assured that he would not let such a thing happen either.
While Qasim had not named Umar Naseer in particular, the tweet came right after the outpouring of criticism about Umar joining his party.
Umar Naseer had competed in the 2008 presidential election from his then party, the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP). However, when he lost the election, he dissolved the party, and joined former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP). Umar did not last long in the party either; after disagreements with the leaders of DRP, he had quit and aligned with Maumoon’s new party – the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). Umar had even competed with incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom in the PPM primary for presidency; however, after he lost the primary, he quit the party and joined Jumhoory Party. He was appointed as Yameen’s first home minister while he was with JP. However, soon after he assumed his ministerial post, he had withdrawn from JP to show non-alignment as the home minister. He resigned as the home minister in June 2016 and had been away from the political arena since.