Maldives opposition leader Nasheed in talks with former rival to 'topple' president

Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during a press conference in London on Jan 25, 2016.
Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed speaks during a press conference in London on Jan 25, 2016. PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - Exiled Maldives opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed has said he is in talks with the former president - who repeatedly threw him in jail - to "legally topple" the current leader of the troubled honeymoon island.

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

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, for his downfall.

But on Tuesday he indicated he wanted to bury the hatchet with Mr Gayoom, amid reports of a rift between the former strongman leader and his half-brother, current President Abdulla Yameen.

"How can you build a future if you always want to go back to live in the past," Mr Nasheed told reporters in Colombo via a video link from London.

"Yameen's days are numbered. He has lost the support of the people and the international community. We can restore democracy in the Maldives."

Nasheed said he had forgiven Mr Gayoom and was in talks with his faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) "for a new political alignment".

He did not disclose details, but said he had visited Colombo late last month to meet fellow dissidents and map out a strategy to "legally topple" Yameen.

There was no immediate comment from Mr Gayoom, however, and diplomats in Colombo were cautious about the prospect of such an alliance.

"The opposition was expecting Gayoom to get a section of his party to withdraw support for Yameen late last month, but for some reason that did not happen," said one western diplomatic source in Colombo, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"It is not easy for the opposition to organise any agitation inside the country because all their leaders are either in jail or in exile."

An alliance between the 78-year-old Mr Gayoom and Nasheed was unthinkable even a few months ago.

But an intensifying crackdown on political dissent in the atoll nation of 340,000 people has dented its popular image as an upmarket holiday paradise.

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.

In July, Mr Gayoom's daughter Dunya Maumoon quit as foreign minister, saying she did not agree with a plan to bring back the death penalty after nearly seven decades.

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

He served repeated jail terms under Mr Gayoom's autocratic leadership before winning the country's first democratic election in 2008.