By N. Sathiya Moorthy*
Whatever be the intent and content of much-anticipated Saturday’s New York meeting of the nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) on Maldives, its decision to delay action may have only boosted the confidence of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s leadership nearer home. Coupled with the hurried and haphazard way former President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed’s camp tried to convince the world that the end of the Yameen government was round the corner, and got severely rebuffed by the ‘prospective ally’ in predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of the incumbent, the next presidential elections may end up becoming a Gayoom family affair.
The presidential polls are not due before November 2018, and the process should commence two or three months earlier. Yet, it’s not unlikely that Yameen could advance the elections by a year or so by getting the cabinet headed by him to resign en masse and hand over power to Parliament Speaker, Abdullah Maseeh Mohamed, for 60 days under the constitution, when fresh polls needed to be concluded.
The idea would be to try and ensure that Nasheed continues to be denied a chance in contesting the elections, citing the Supreme Court upholding his 13-year sentence in the Judge Abdulla case. The sub-text would be have the elections before the impact of any possible punitive action by the Commonwealth, if it came to that, began to be felt by the ordinary voters.
Going by the punishing construction-schedule, Yameen also seems wanting to have the China-funded sea-bridge to the Male International Airport ready by the second half of 2017, for ‘presenting’ it to the voters. It’s also not unlikely that work on a second runway in the Male airport may have reached a decisive stage. Whether commercially viable or not, especially in the medium term, both would be political showpieces, pushing the fading memories of the controversial GMR deal, involving the Indian infrastructure major, to the background.
There is nothing to suggest that such efforts would pay off, and Yameen could get the mandated upper-limit of a second term in a free and fair election. But the Yameen camp is convinced that ‘free, fair and inclusive’ election would mean if and only if Nasheed is given a chance to contest. Citing Nasheed’s own public statement after Judge Abdulla’s midnight detention that also involved the nation’s armed forces, the government seeks to convince whoever is willing to hear that the former President could not escape punishment even if there were another ‘impartial trial’.
To them, punishment for Nasheed means his disqualification from contesting elections. And disqualification of Nasheed could mean that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not want to field any other candidate. This could produce a political deadlock. Alternatively, should MDP conduct party primaries for choosing their presidential nominee, whenever, and if Nasheed’s name were found on the ballot, the election commission could possibly delegitimize the process and may also de-recognise the party.
Already, with Nasheed and party chairman Ali Waheed now in the UK after obtaining political asylum, the election commission’s efforts at streamlining party leadership and membership records could jeopardise the MDP’s future. The opposition is accusing the government/EC of not releasing state funds for political parties, as mandated under the constitution. But when larger issues are thrown up before them, State funding, or non-distribution of the same, could be the least of the opposition’s problems.
Going by ground-level trends, the main stake-holders in Maldivian domestic politics have already launched a psychological war against one another, to push the adversary/adversaries into disarray. Minus the ‘terrorism’ part of the charges against Nasheed, any government in Yameen’s place may still have a case against the former President for Judge Abdulla’s abduction.
Just days ahead of the CMAG’s New York meeting, the government also opened a new and additional front by instituting a fresh case over the ‘illegal detention’ of Yameen when Nasheed was in power. The police have questioned two former Defence Ministers, one of them having held the office for a brief period under Yameen, until last year’s ‘presidential boat-blast’.
Maj-Gen Mossa Ali Jaleel was a senior army official under Nasheed and was High Commissioner to Pakistan when Yameen brought him in as Defence Minister. The other, Amin Faisal, was Defence Minister and National Security Advisor when Yameen was housed in an island resort, so was another opposition leader, Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party. Faisal was later named High Commissioner to India, but he never took over as the Nasheed leadership had exited office in the subsequent months.
In this background, Yameen’s psy-war on Nasheed is also possibly aimed at trying to divide the MDP-led Maldives United Opposition (MUO), by seeking to convince them all that he was a ‘spoiler’ who would not want others in the ranks to rise without him at the top. There can be no denying that Nasheed continues to be the single-most popular leader in the country, both MDP and outside, but a continued political deadlock centred near-exclusively on Nasheed’s ‘intransigence’ could prove counter-productive.
It’s as if marking this, the Yameen camp launched two erstwhile MDP leaders, one-time party Chairman, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, and ex-vice-president Allan Fahmy, to target Nasheed and the MDP. It’s not much of a secret that there are ambitious second-line leaders in the MDP who want Nasheed’s votes, but not necessarily Nasheed’s leadership.
Their chances would sprout if and only if Nasheed is not around to contest elections, but is available to extend his whole-hearted support to one of them, even if as an interim arrangement until a new President clears him of all pending court cases and verdict. Getting into Nasheed’s good books, to be named his successor, even if in the interim, is their short-term goal. Nasheed is once bitten, twice shy.
Nasheed’s MDP colleagues are well aware that especially after his ‘bad experience’ with his first-term Vice President, Dr. Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, Nasheed has been nominating only well-trusted and less ambitious personal friends and members of his extended family to sensitive party positions, including previous teams to negotiate with the Yameen leadership. Most MDP cadres too seem wanting it that way, leaving it all for Nasheed, and Nasheed alone, to decide.
If Nasheed and his MDP cadres do not trust the rest, and justifiably so, prospective allies do not trust them either. Barring the present-day partners of the MDP in the Maldives United Opposition (MUO), who have little or no electoral base to call their own, a credibility gap hangs over the heads of the MDP leadership. This flowed from Nasheed’s handling of his second-round electoral allies from his victorious 2008 presidential polls, but the issues refuse to go away.
If anything, the credibility questions vis a vis the MDP leadership has since resurfaced, and may have also impacted on the party’s international backers after the recent fiasco attending on Nasheed’s claims over a political deal with predecessor Gayoom to have the latter’s estranged half-brother Yameen out of office. Promptly did Nasheed make such claims; promptly did Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) denied any contact whatsoever, so as to make any political deal even remotely possible. Post-CMAG, Gayoom’s daughter and former Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has said as much.
The Gayoom-Yameen rift within the PPM has sort of stabilised, and not widened, for now. However, there does not seem to be any going back for either, or the factions that each of them now head. Gayoom is still the party president, and the Yameen camp does not seem to have either the numbers or the stomach to challenge the same. Likewise, the Gayoom faction does not seem to have the numbers in Parliament, to try and impeach Yameen, even with the support of the MDP-MUO, which includes the lone woman member of the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP).
It is not known if Nasheed’s inability to strike a deal with Gayoom, as claimed, was also among the reasons for the CMAG to give Yameen a longer rope than the MDP-MUO had expected. If anything, the Gayoom faction also maintained a pregnant silence over la affaire CMAG. Whether Nasheed could strike a deal with Gayoom, or if he could alternatively produce the two-thirds numbers in the 85-member People’s Majlis, or parliament, to have Yameen and his Vice-President, Abdulla Jihad, impeached together or separately, is the question.
It is not unlikely that such domestic political considerations too might weigh on the CMAG, or any other international organisation of the kind, before proceeding with taking its current ‘agenda’ items forward in the March session. If nothing else, the international community, especially India’s neighbour, has the stomach for a politically unstable Maldives. India is a leading member not only of the Commonwealth but also of the larger ‘democracy alliance’ the world over. In the immediate context, it is an important member of the nine-nation CMAG just now.
*N. Sathiya Moorthy is Director, Chennai Chapter of the Observer Research Foundation. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent on: [email protected]