The MDP cadre did not seem to suffer from poll fatigue even months after the presidential elections as a high number of them voted in the party primaries, to select candidates, for the party ticket last month.
N Sathiya Moorthy 26 February 2019
The arrest of former President Abdulla Yameen in the run-up to the parliamentary polls, slated for 6 April, may — or, may not — have caused eye-brows to raise in ‘democratic capitals’ elsewhere. Inside native Maldives, however, Yameen’s PPM-PNC political duo has displayed nervousness unbecoming of his substantial 42-per cent vote-share in the 23 September presidential elections. As incumbent, Yameen lost to rival MDP’s Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih, representing a four-party coalition.
Yameen’s arrest followed investigations into a multi-million dollar embezzlement and money-laundering case, brought out by some officials in the nation’s central bank, namely, the Maldivian Monetary Authority (MMA), even when was in power. Under the present government, the police claimed that he had falsified statements to investigators in the larger case and was seeking to bribe and otherwise influence witnesses. The criminal court promptly sent Yameen to Maafushi prison — the very island where his regime had held many political adversaries — until the end of the ‘perjury trial.’
The Jumhooree Party is still the second leading partner in the MDP-led ruling coalition, but the two parties are contesting the parliamentary elections on their own.
Only hours after Yameen’s imprisonment, second-line leaders of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), of which he is the president, and the People’s National Congress (PNC), founded by some of them, fearing courts handing over the former to his half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, showed jitters as never before. They asked the Election Commission (EC) to postpone the parliamentary polls, citing ‘political vindictiveness’ in Yameen’s arrest. More importantly, they held a news conference to call for President Solih’s resignation and his replacement by Parliament Speaker Gasim Ibrahim. The latter’s Jumhooree Party (JP) is still the second leading partner in the MDP-led ruling coalition, but the two parties are contesting the parliamentary elections on their own.
The EC promptly rejected the postponement-demand. Gasiṁ Ibrahim did not react, but already there were reports of the JP and the PPM-PNC duo talking about a pre-poll pact of some kind. According to the Yameen camp, Solih did not live up to the popular mandate, which owed to the vote-shares of all four coalition partners, and not just that of the MDP. Under the Constitution and the experience MDP boss, President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed showed in February 2012, if the presidency fell vacant, Solih’s place would be taken by Vice-President Faizal Naseem belonging to Gasim’s JP. As the PPM-PNC leaders pointed out, should VP Naseem also quit, as Speaker Gasim would come to hold office for 60 days and conduct fresh presidential polls during the period.
Whether or not Gasim would have been attracted towards the first part of the deal, he was unlikely to be impressed by the second. If at all, the JP would require ‘iron-clad’ guarantees that the Yameen camp would back him to the hilt in the next presidential polls, whenever became due. It is unlikely to occur any time soon, and the Yameen camp strategy would have a limited buy even if Gasim continued as Speaker, post-poll.
As things stand, no one expects Solih to quit, unless there is pressure from within the party. Recently, as MDP chief Nasheed reiterated that his contesting the parliamentary polls would not automatically mean that the nation would move away from the presidential form of government to the Westminster format. As he pointed out, the two leaders have grown up together and are distantly related, too. “It will be for Solih to decide, but as far as I am concerned, I will back him in Parliament, just as he has defended me and the party as the Leader of the House or of the Opposition during the past decade and more,” Nasheed clarified.
As things stand, no one expects Solih to quit, unless there is pressure from within the party.
Under the circumstances, for the Yameen camp to hoist Gasim as President is as good as ruled out in the present Parliament. For a ‘dream-cum-true’ episode of the kind in the new Parliament, first the Yameen-Gasim alliance, if there were if at all, now or later, should have a majority — and also willingness — to make Gasim Speaker, again. This pre-supposes that Gasim will get re-elected as MP. If Solih and the MDP were not to oblige them with the President’s resignation, then, they would also require a two-thirds majority to impeach him. They would also require an ‘obliging’ Supreme Court all over again, as under the Yameen time, to clear an impeachment motion before vote. The outright alternative would be for Gasim and the JP to stick with the MDP coalition, post-poll, too, and hope to become Speaker all over again — based on the respective numbers.
This does not mean that Solih-Nasheed duo and their MDP are on an exceptionally sound wicket in the parliamentary polls. Egged on by inherent ambitions and also cadre-pressure that all ‘paying’ ministries had already gone to JP or other coalition partners, the Nasheed leadership unilaterally decided to contest 86 of the 87 parliamentary seats. President Solih’s intervention to sort out the issue did not help, and the other three coalition partners are contesting the parliamentary polls on their own.
Accordingly, the JP has reportedly fielded 42 candidates, and the AP nine. The fourth partner, namely, the newly-founded Maumoon Reform Movement (MRM) of former President Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of Yameen, is also contesting in a number of seats. Among the MRM nominees are at least some of the 12 MPs disqualified by Yameen-led PPM when the latter was in power. The Supreme Court restored their membership, both when Yameen was in power and later out of it. Inaugurating a two-day conference on ‘Judicial Independence and Reforms’ more recently, in the background of the Yameen regime’s heavy-handedness on this score, the Chief Justice, Ahmed Abdulla Didi, criticised the ruling MDP for seeking to curtail the Supreme Court’s powers, especially in terms of judicial appointments and superintendence, but not excluding other aspects.
The MDP’s confidence flows from the fact that at least half the number of voters in a substantial number of constituencies is reportedly registered party members.
The MDP was reportedly not keen on providing enough seats for the Maumoon camp to be able to field all 12 and also other supporters — apart from providing ‘adequate to respectable’ number of seats for the JP and AP, too. The AP and MRM are now contesting independent of each other as much as they are contesting against the MDP and also the JP allies. They have separately declared that their candidates too were contesting for and on behalf of the coalition (like the MDP’s). This could imply that if any of their candidates won the polls, they would support the MDP and President Solih on crucial issues. The JP, if at all, has been silent on this score. If anything, reports have indicated that the JP and the Yameen camp, with 50 candidates now in fray, may be tied in ‘friendly contests’ in the 42 constituencies where alone the JP has fielded its nominees. In the rest, only one of them is facing an MDP nominee, and possibly one or more of other candidates, including some independents — and that of the nascent ‘left-wing party.’ Yet, going by Yameen camp’s plot for Gasim, the latter would have to remain Speaker, post-poll, even if it came to patching up with the MDP — which in turn would be uncomfortable about the prospects, unlike during the short-term, now.
The MDP’s confidence flows from the fact that at least half the number of voters in a substantial number of constituencies is reportedly registered party members. They did not seem to suffer from poll-fatigue even months after the presidential elections as a high number of them voted in the MDP primaries to select candidates for the party ticket last month. The party is also reported to be closely watching developments in the Yameen and Gasim camps, where ‘rebel’ candidates are contesting as ‘independents’ in constituencies where the respective parties have not fielded an official nominee — or, withdrawn them after naming them.
It is another matter that some of the new groups, including the one with which former EC President, Mohammed Tawheek, is associated with could similarly cut into MDP’s vote-share. Two former vice presidents, Mohammed Jameel Ahmed and Ahmed Adeeb are also in the fray under separate electoral brands. Both were VPs under Yameen, one after the other, and the latter got them both impeached. Of them, Adeeb is still in prison, following multiple charges, including attempt to eliminate President Yameen through a boat bomb-blast and embezzling public funds, for which his former boss too is now facing investigations.
Barring urban, population centres, adding up to around 20 parliamentary seats, most constituencies have around 2,000 to 3,000 voters each, or even less. In such circumstances, even 50 to 100 votes could make or break MPs. The non-MDP camp may be the possible gainer. However, with the MDP and the JP continuing with their ambiguous co-existence at least until the parliamentary polls, the results would decide the future strength and stability of the coalition — and of the nation, too.