In the first major effort of its kind after a series of street-protests in Male in the first half of 2015, the political opposition against Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has formed a joint grouping at a London meet. In a tactical move, possibly aimed at seeking international recognition of whatever kind possible, they have also formed a ‘shadow cabinet’ headed by Yameen’s impeached Vice-President, Ahmed Jameel Mohammed, in self-exile since early last year.
It is the brain-child of ‘jailed’ former President Mohammed Nasheed, who was in the UK on ‘medical leave’ and whom the host-government has since granted ‘political asylum’. Even while contesting for the presidency in 2013 after laying down office in early 2012, Nasheed was known to have evinced an interest in becoming the ‘mentor’ of a future leadership.
Given his previous experience, it was unclear if Nasheed would take the brave new step of projecting someone else in his place – especially someone from outside his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), as is the case now with Jameel. However, in a February meeting in Male, the party passed a unanimous resolution, to work with other parties, groups and individuals opposed to the Yameen leadership. Subsequently in London, Nasheed indicated the MDP’s willingness to work with – and under – Jameel.
It may be too early to predict the success or hit-rate of the new combine, or their ability to stay together and project a common and acceptable candidate for the presidency, as and when elections are called – whether before or when due, in November 2018. Considering that Nasheed’s early return to Maldives could also involve the question of his pending prison term, Supreme Court appeal, et al, issues on the ground could be more complicated than could be made out to be.
The ‘Maldives United Opposition’, as the formation has named itself, has Nasheed, jailed AP leader, Sheikh Imran and another jailed leader, ex-Defence Minister, Col Mohamad Nazim, as its advisors. The ‘shadow cabinet’ under Jameel has MDP chairperson, Ali Waheed, another leader now in self-exile, as deputy, and a host of leaders from across the combined opposition as members of the ‘shadow Cabinet’.
Many members of the ‘shadow cabinet’ seem to be already overseas. If they are in Maldives, many of them have not been in the news since the end of the joint opposition’s street-protests in Male, in the first half of last year. It now remains to be seen how the ‘shadow cabinet’ and Nasheed as MDP president and the chief-architect of the opposition combine, expect to work and revive at the grassroots-level, back home.
It’s especially so, given the perception that their ‘global efforts’ may have hit a road-block just now, requiring the UK to grant ‘political asylum’ to Nasheed, at least in the interim. A lot on the ground will depend on how the United Opposition is able to inspire confidence in themselves and momentum to their overseas movement, locally – sustain it and take it forward, in the weeks and months to come. Identifying willing front-liners willing to risk their personal freedom and physical comforts may by itself could be a challenging task in the prevailing mood and methods of the Yameen leadership, in particular.
The MDP would still be the centre-piece of the ‘joint Opposition’ providing the institutional and organisational support, which only the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) in the grouping may otherwise have – but as a very distant second. Jameel, who was Yameen’s choice for the vice-presidency, has lost whatever remained for political organisation in native South after the ‘third front’ of which he was a part in the first multi-party presidential polls of 2008, got disintegrated.
The Yameen leadership has already pooh-poohed the London formation, with Foreign Minister Duniya Maumoon referring to the official British silence still on the Nasheed asylum. A section of the Maldivian media too has pointed to the incongruity of Nasheed’s stated positions on democracy, corruption and religious fundamentalism, and his choice for new allies. A lot would depend on the Maldivian voter’s acceptance of this incongruity, as visible in the 2008 polls, and denial, which again remains to be seen.
Apart from the AP, the list includes jailed and impeached ex-VP Ahmed Adheeb, facing massive corruption charges on the corruption front back home, not to mention the ‘boat-bomb blast’ in which Yameen escaped. For now, the government has spared Jameel of criminal charges of any kind – but it remains to be seen how things turn out for him — and hence for the combine — that he has been chosen to lead, in the days, weeks and months to come.
Apart from two vice-presidents in as many years, Maldives under Yameen also has had three defence ministers during the same period. Col Mohamad Nazim, whom the MDP had publicly accused of heading a ‘coup’ against President Nasheed in February 2012, was Yameen’s first defence minister. Like Adheeb later, Nazim was arrested for plotting to eliminate Yameen – and is a partner in the joint opposition.
Present-day defence minister, Adam Shareef, succeeded Nazim’s replacement in another ex-military official in Moosa Jaleel, Maldives envoy to Pakistan at the time of his appointment. The latter quit, owning up responsibility for the ‘boat blast’ that Yameen survived – and has not been in the news afterwards.
Though months have passed since the arrest and impeachment of VP Adheeb, President Yameen has not made any move to fill what essentially is a constitutional vacancy. Under the scheme, the VP fills any residual term to the presidency at any time, followed by Parliament Speaker, who can hold the presidential office only for 60 days, and (only) to preside over fresh elections to the highest elected office in the land.
Maldives: Opposition Gets Its Domestic Act Together, Overseas Now – Analysis – Eurasia Review