2016 Review: Gayooms clash to split Maldives ruling party

The high-profile 'Brangelina' split may have captured global attention. But in 2016, tucked away in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives had also witnessed one of its most unexpected yet ugly breakups in the archipelago's history.

According to grapevine, former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who had ruled the country for three decades had always had a sour relationship with half brother Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Though the bitterness reportedly never quite seeped to the surface, the scars of contrasting childhoods ultimately proved to be a ticking time bomb that finally exploded in 2016.

It is an undeniable fact that the elder Gayoom was pivotal to his half brother's election win three years ago. Though Yameen needed a runoff backed by every political player to defeat former president Mohamed Nasheed, Gayoom does deserve credit for securing a place in the runoff for his half brother after a closely fought first round.

Maybe his role in the election win gave birth to the misguided notion of a 'proxy' rule for the elder Gayoom. Close aides of president Yameen traces the feud back to immediately after the younger Gayoom was sworn in. The former strongman reportedly staked a claim to a say in the appointment of key state officials and other matters of the state.

That much became evident after the rift first hit headlines as Gayoom, similar to a scorned spouse lamented his half brother's refusal to 'meet' him.

The spat finally boiled over after the elder Gayoom attempted to sabotage a controversial tourism Act amendment. But Gayoom was left red faced after the government lawmakers publicly snubbed the attempt, prompting the ex-president, through his lawmaker son, to disrupt every subsequent government move using the party charter as a pretext.

Following whispers of an imminent move to oust his son Faaris Maumoon from the party, Gayoom tightened his grip on the ruling party to suspend its internal committees and refused to hold a council sit-down.

The party’s disciplinary committee then ignored the ban on all party sit-downs imposed by Gayoom to oust his lawmaker son Faaris from the party.

The move resulted in a full blown crisis as Gayoom for the first time publicly criticized his half brother's government and announced a reform program to bring the ruling party 'back on track.'

Soon after, the elder Gayoom called a council sit-down in an attempt to resolve the rift, only to witness a faction loyal to Yameen stage a walk out.

Any hope for the two brothers to mend ties went up in smoke after two PPM lawmakers loyal to president Yameen filed a lawsuit claiming that Gayoom had hijacked the party.

The incensed elder Gayoom then launched a desperate bid to regain control of his party intensifying efforts to woo key party members to his side.

President Yameen however had appeared to be in firm control as he commanded the majority of the PPM council and the party lawmakers.

In an unprecedented yet unsurprising turn of events, the country's civil court stepped in to hand over the ruling party control to president Yameen, finding Gayoom guilty of violating the constitution, party charter and political party law.

The party control had been handed over to Yameen in the capacity of chief advisor which is a default position afforded to the party’s successful presidential candidate by the party’s charter.

The verdict however, failed to deter the obstinate elder Gayoom as he intensified his push to court government lawmakers to his side of the fence as the ruling party split right down the middle.

Gayoom, the odds heavily stacked against him, did manage to convince a few party lawmakers to back his cause albeit briefly. His half brother, responded strongly and decisively to extinguish the glimmer of hope Gayoom may have had of a rebellion by quickly reversing the defections.

A despairing Gayoom then played his final hand by publicly withdrawing support for his half brother's government. The days that followed were understandably, chock full of criticism and condemnation of almost every government move by the aggrieved Gayoom before trickling down to almost a hush as the end of the year approached.

Some inside the inner circle of arguably the two most influential figures in Maldives politics, had claimed that Gayoom's refusal to gift the party's presidential ticket to president Yameen remains the root of the row between the brothers.

There could be some substance to the claim as at the height of the row, the elder Gayoom's loyalists never once failed to point out that president Yameen would not be at the helm if not for his half brother.

The fact was also not lost on the other side, as top government lawmakers scoffed at speculation that president Yameen would be unable to secure a second term without his half brother's support.

In an ideal world president Yameen would love to have his half brother in his corner with two years remaining until the next presidential elections. But Maldives politics is never ideal and the quiet at the back end of 2016 could very well turn out to be the calm before the storm, especially with the incessant whispers of an 'unholy' alliance between Gayoom and his arch nemesis Nasheed.

2016 has certainly been another tumultuous year for Maldives politics and in a country with reportedly the highest divorce rate in the world, few would argue that the 'Gayoom split' is the vanguard of breakups that the country would witness for a long time.