N Sathiya Moorthy, www.orfonline.org, 29 March 2017
A few days after signing an agreement to save Maldivian ‘sovereignty and democracy’, the combined Opposition lost the first floor-test in Parliament to President Abdulla Yameen on March 27. Chairing the session, Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik declared the Opposition-initiated no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh defeated by 48-0 with two abstentions.
The entire Opposition had walked out before the vote after the Chair declined the demand for electronic voting, and conceded the Yameen camp’s insistence on ‘roll-call’. The Opposition cited parliamentary procedures in this regard, but were over-ruled after the Leader of the House Ahmed Nihan blamed them for ‘hacking’ the electronic voting machine, rendering it unserviceable – a claim that remained unproved till the end.
As the Opposition pointed out, the result of the mandatory open-vote for authorising ‘roll-call’ on the no-trust motion included the names of Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik and independent MP, Ahmed Maloof, jailed for 25 years in a corruption case. The Opposition also objected to the Chair calling in personnel from the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF), the nation’s army, to remove the protesting members.
Why electronic voting?
After losing the trust-vote, the Opposition declared its intention to move another motion for Speaker Maseeh’s removal. Their motion for the removal of Deputy Speaker Moosa Manik, a former Chairperson of the main Opposition MDP, is now being scheduled for voting on April 11. It remains to be seen if the Chair would resort to electronic voting at the time.
Explaining the logic behind their demand, Faaris Maumoon, a ranking Opposition MP, explained that electronic voting afforded individual members an opportunity to change their vote within 30 seconds of casting it, after seeing how others were voting. There had been occasions when it had happened in the past, he recalled.
Faaris is the elder son and political-heir of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, leading the ‘minority’ faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The ‘majority’ group, as visible in the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, identifies with Gayoom’s half-brother and President, Abdulla Yameen.
Gayoom under pressure
After Monday’s vote, the Gayoom leadership is under greater pressure than already. Meeting on the eve of the parliamentary vote, available members of the PPM national council recommended Gayoom’s removal from the party. Earlier, PPM members of Parliament backing Yameen met to recommend his removal as party president, a sinecure post in which his continues after the courts had ruled against him.
With this, the septuagenarian leader has the unique and unenvious distinction of floating two political parties in quick succession and losing them both to one-time dependable aides. As incumbent President of 30 years ‘facilitating’ and facing the first multi-party, democratic elections in 2008, Gayoom floated the Dhivehi Raayathunghe Party (DRP), only to walk out of it in 2010, after losing the polls.
Gayoom’s vice-presidential running-mate, Thasmeen Ali from 2008, whom he had named the DRP’s presidential nominee for 2013 even three full years ahead, began asserting himself, leading to the formation of PPM. Thasmeen would lose popular ground to Gayoom, and ended up joining the MDP between the two main rounds of polling for the 2013 presidential elections. In between, he had become the running-mate of Nasheed’s successor and incumbent President, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, the combine getting eliminated in the first round, polling a low five percent vote-share.
Outside of the PPM and the new four-party combine into which he has signed into, Gayoom has to prove his continuing hold over the party, starting with the parliamentary group. Only four of the original eight that had joined him from the PPM’s total strength of 48 MPs are with Gayoom at present. The Yameen leadership also has the backing of five members of electoral ally, Maldives Development Alliance (MDA).
Against this, the four-party combine has the MDP’s 21 MPs, Jumhooree Party’s (JP) post-poll, post-defection seven, and a lone, woman member of the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP). Their leaderships should be happy that either their members did not yield to pressures to defect, or the Yameen leadership did not attempt it, or both.
Encouraging defections in a nebulous political situation, as prevailing in Maldives just now, can cut both ways, as evident during the short/shortened term of MDP’s President Nasheed (2008-12). Stake-holders seem to have understood it, and seem to be playing safe. Of them, Yameen seems sitting pretty comfortable, it would seem – and the MPs on his side, unsure still as to which way would the (other) winds blow.
Announcing the four-party combine against Yameen in Colombo, Nasheed also reiterated that he would be contesting the presidential polls of 2018. Before the PPM split, Faaris Maumoon was expected to be the party’s presidential candidate, to try and succeed Yameen. From within the united PPM earlier and the Gayoom faction since, Yameen’s one-time Home Minister, Umar Naseer, seems still determined to stake his claims in a party primary.
Under a law that Nasheed’s MDP helped Yameen amend, both Gayoom and JP’s Gasim Ibrahim are barred from contesting the presidential polls, both having crossed the upper age-limit of 65 years. That leaves only the Adhaalath Party (AP), whose leader Sheikh Imran, is still in prison, on a ‘terrorism charge’, for ‘inciting violence’ at a protest rally against Yameen in early 2015.
With the four leaders signing a new agreement, the future of the MDP-AP led ‘Maldives United Opposition’ (MUO) is not known. Yameen’s impeaced Vice-President Abdulla Jameel had been chosen MUO chair at their confabulations in London, but it’s not clear if MUO or Jameel, among others, are a part of the new arrangement.
Any parliamentary victory against Yameen now or ahead of the presidential polls could lead to the Opposition seeking to ‘impeach’ him, requiring two-thirds majority of 57 votes. Yameen now has 53 in the 85-member House. Nasheed is now in self-exile in the UK, which has granted him ‘political asylum’. Before leaving overseas for a spinal surgery, Nasheed was spending the early months of a 13-year jail-term in a criminal case, converted into a ‘terrorism charge’. For facilitating Nasheed to return home and also contest the presidential polls, laws and court rulings would have to be over-turned.
This could be accompanied by demands for rescinding the age-limit clause as JP might still want to field Gasim, who had polled 25 percent votes in the first round of the 2013 presidential polls, up from 16 percent in 2008 – all of which, he could ‘transfer’ in the second round. What decision would the PPM take regarding fielding Gayoom again, especially if he had taken back the party, is a far-fetched question, as well.
The Opposition stake-holders thus seem to be looking at a return of a 2008/2013 poll scenario, where they all could contest independently in the first round, pool their votes for and in the second round, in favour of the highest vote-getter among them, against Yameen. The possibility of disenfranchising Yameen, or obtaining his disqualification under existing laws and court verdict, is another possibility.
All of it would have to wait for a longer time, which the Opposition alliance just does not seem to have just now. More importantly, between now and whenever, individual leaders and their parties in the Opposition would have to convince the nation’s voters that they have ‘changed’ and ‘changed’ for the better, from their own days in power – and could be trusted with running a new alliance without forcing out partners, or deserting the same.
For, barring the first-time voters of 2018, the rest of them have all seen all these leaders, their behaviour and patterns when in power and out of it, too. The voters, as much as fellow-politicians, would require more convincing if the former were to take them more seriously, and give their combined call for democracy, yet another chance. On that, and that alone, hinges the future and fate of the Yameen presidency and the incumbent’s electoral chances the next time round.
(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)