Maldives ex-leader vows fightback after vote chaos

A Maldivian opposition activist argues with a policeman outside parliament on March 27, 2017

Exiled Maldives opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed vowed Wednesday to keep up the pressure on the government after it deployed troops to remove his MPs from parliament, drawing a warning from Washington.

Nasheed admitted he had been unable to secure "outright victory" in his attempt to seize control of parliament by entering into a pact with the current president's half-brother, former strongman president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A vote of no confidence in the house speaker, intended to destabilise President Abdulla Yameen before elections next year, ended in defeat Monday when soldiers took away 13 opposition MPs and the rest walked out in protest.

The scenes, captured on camera and circulated on social media, prompted the US embassy to urge Male to "restore faith in democratic processes".

Nasheed, who has pledged to return to the honeymoon islands to contest the 2018 election, said the incident had exposed the government's shaky majority and strengthened his resolve to try again.

"I am not disappointed," he told AFP in Colombo from where he coordinated the abortive parliamentary push.

"I don't think there was a failure, but we did not come out with an outright victory."

Nasheed accused the government of using intimidation to prevent its MPs from defecting to the opposition side.

"The end game is to ensure free and fair elections," Nasheed said.

"I want to be able to go back and contest elections. I will contest elections."

- Fresh bid -

Nasheed became the Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008, but was narrowly defeated by Yameen in a controversial 2013 election run-off.

He now lives in exile in London after he was convicted in 2015 on terrorism charges that were widely seen as politically motivated.

Yameen has presided over a major crackdown on political dissent in the nation of 340,000 that has raised fears over its stability and dented its image as a tourism paradise.

Almost all key opposition leaders and several ruling party dissidents have either been jailed or fled into exile since he took office.

That has led to Yameen's estrangement from Gayoom, his half-brother, who himself ruled the country for three decades before he was ousted in 2008.

On Wednesday Nasheed said his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) would launch a fresh bid with Gayoom to control parliament, although it remains unclear whether they have the necessary support.

He said the government's support had declined, and claimed another 10 MPs would have defected had there been what he called a "free vote" in parliament.

Media were not allowed access, but images posted on social media showed several opposition-aligned MPs being evicted while armed police kept opposition supporters from gathering outside the building.

Nasheed urged police and security chiefs not to follow what he said were illegal orders to crack down on dissidents in the archipelago of 340,000 Sunni Muslims.

Gayoom agreed over the weekend to work with the opposition to free those convicted of politically motivated charges.

On Monday night he was formally removed as leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives which he founded.

He had appealed to members of the party to break ranks with the president and vote with the opposition to remove the speaker.