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Exiled Maldives leader to stand for election

  • Published at 07:01 pm February 9th, 2017
Exiled Maldives leader to stand for election

The exiled former leader of the Maldives announced Thursday he would return to run for election as president of the troubled Indian Ocean nation, despite facing jail after a controversial conviction on terror-related charges.

Mohamed Nasheed became the Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008, but was narrowly defeated in 2013 elections by President Abdullah Yameen.

Nasheed was later jailed on terrorism charges he says were politically motivated. He has lived in exile for the past year after Maldives authorities gave him leave to travel to London for medical treatment.

But on Thursday he announced he would contest the 2018 presidential elections, following talks this week in Colombo with his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

"We have decided that the MDP will produce a candidate, I am hopeful to be that candidate," the 49-year-old told reporters in Colombo after talks with party leaders living in exile in the Sri Lankan capital.

Nasheed is almost certain to be arrested on return to the Indian Ocean archipelago, whose reputation as an upmarket honeymoon destination has been battered by years of political unrest.

He would be able to contest party primaries from outside the country, but would need to return to Male for the election.

The Maldives constitution bars Nasheed from being a candidate because of a 2015 criminal conviction. But the former leader expects the restriction to be lifted in response to international pressure.

A UN panel has ruled that Nasheed's imprisonment was illegal and ordered the regime to pay him compensation.

The Maldives government has accused Nasheed, whose legal team includes high-profile human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, of only securing asylum to avoid serving jail time.

Nasheed said he was still a Maldivian national despite having his passport revoked last year by Yameen's regime and being issued a British travel document. "I am not a British citizen. I am a refugee," Nasheed said.

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

Almost all key opposition leaders and a number of ruling party dissidents have either been jailed or fled into exile since Yameen took office in a controversial run-off election against Nasheed.

At the country's first multi-party elections in 2008, Nasheed beat long-time president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled the island for three straight decades.

Gayoom is the half brother of the current incumbent, and widely regarded as the power behind the ruling Yameen regime.

Nasheed had sought an alliance with his old foe Gayoom in August to challenge the regime, but was unsuccessful.

"We didn't have the necessary political alignment for such a force to ensure change," Nasheed said.

"The MDP is never very comfortable with transfers of power through any other means. We would always step back when we think the transfer of power is going to happen through means other than the ballot."