By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan.
Though not totally unexpected, Maldives threw a surprise in electing Abdullah Yameen in the run off to the presidential elections held on November 16, 2013.
The elections saw an unprecedented polling of close to 90.3 percent with the PPM candidate Abdulla Yameen securing 110,371 votes ( 51.61 percent) as against Mohamad Nasheed of MDP gathering 48.39 percent with 103,500 votes.
In one sense, the result would certainly put an end to the unseemly controversy and uncertainty. The reason is that the potential loser no longer needs the litigation route and with the veto given to him to choose the date of elections, he was able to strike a deal with the second loser in the elections- Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoree party.
Added to that was that the loser in the run off, Md. Nasheed of the MDP had the grace to concede defeat at the earliest and offer cooperation in a responsible manner in the interest of the country.
What went wrong with the MDP which emerged as a clear winner before the elections or put it differently, what factors helped Yameen to secure over fifty percent in the runoff when he had polled just half of that in the first annulled elections and later, a little more in the re election for the first round? This needs to be carefully analysed and understood.
First and foremost, Yameen by nature not a very charismatic leader was helped in full measure by the former President and step brother Gayoom. It is said that in Maldives Gayoomism still continues though not Gayoom in person! It is also surprising that those who have suffered under the autocratic rule of Gayoom for three decades appeared to have transferred their loyalty and sympathies to Gayoom’s step brother Yameen without ever thinking of the past history or the capability of the candidate.
Second, was the last minute support given by Gasim Ibrahim, no doubt on the intervention of Gayoom at the right time. Yameen and Gayoom were not best of friends either and that in one of the private conversations, Gasim is said to have remarked that he would rather jump into the sea than support Yameen.
Soon after the first round of elections, Gasim in an audio message tld his followers that he will not assist any candidate in their efforts to become president and he officially confirmed the Party’s council decision that the party will not support any party in the second round.
But soon after Gayoom and surprisingly the present incumbent president Waheed met him, Gasim convinced himself and declared “I urge everyone who voted for me to pray and vote for Yameen for the “sake of Islam and our culture.” What is to be noted is that he used the Islamic card!
There has certainly been a deal Yameen has had with Gasim and which one could only guess at this stage. Perhaps Gasim got an assurance that his business interests will be not only be protected but perhaps allowed to expand.
Third, was the tacit support the Supreme Court bench, particularly four of them of whom one was the famous judge involved in the Colombo incident. The Supreme Court went beyond its brief to micro manage the elections and worse still gave a a virtual veto to the candidates to choose the date of election. This helped Yameen with ample time to strike a deal with Gasim who in the first instance vowed not to have anything to do with the former!
Fourth, is the indirect help provided by the Police outfit led by the Commissioner Riyaz who on his own unilaterally stopped the election on the second occasion by refusing to permit the election commission in taking the ballot boxes and papers from their headquarters. In addition, the selective targeting of the Police on the MDP ( Nasheed’s) leaders and supporters in the run up to the elections certainly helped to demoralise the MDP cadres. We expect more such suppressive actions from the Police in the days to come.
Fifth and perhaps equally important, is that the Islamists as well as other leaders have consistently portrayed Nasheed as anti Islam and that electing him as President would endanger Islam. In this, all the leaders except that of the MDP and the DRP have repeatedly used the Islamic Card to indicate that for the sake of Islamic unity, Nasheed should be kept out. One needs to see the speeches of Umar Nasir, Sheikh Imran and others but what is puzzling is that responsible leaders like Gayoom, President Waheed, Gasim and scores of others have used this tactics to keep Nasheed out.
A pamphlet of one “Maldivian Society for Islamic Research” with the reported views of 64 scholars was in circulation in the beginning of November that said that Nasheed should repent for his opposition and challenges against the fundamental principles of Islam. The present elected Vice President Mohamed Jameel of PPM said on 4th November that “Islam was the reason behind Maldives victory against the attack by the mercenaries on 3rd November 1988, though this was not the real reason and everyone knows about it.
Too late in the day, Nasheed realised the damage that is being done to his prospects of becoming President by these unfounded accusations. He made a strong plea soon after that other religions will not be allowed in the MDP Government. But this did not have the desired effect.
What went wrong with Nasheed’s prospects? He is a genuine no nonsense people’s leader and it looks that Maldives is not yet prepared to accept his ideology of a liberal Islam. He is a victim of present day circumstances where Islam is and would continue to hold sway over the masses and the best route to condemn an individual would be to call him anti Islam, pro Jewish or pro Christian and give the impression that Islam is in danger. Nasheed’s view as known earlier that people would realise and get educated over a period of time, the dangers of extremism. But this does not seem to happen. It is seen that Nasheed is popular with most of the younger generation and this is perhaps his best hope.
Second was the failure of Nasheed to keep the coalition which got him through in the first elections together. Except those within his party all the rest like Gasim, Hassan Saeed and scores of others left the coalition and Nasheed was thus isolated.
Third was a few mistakes Nasheed made. Allowing the incompetent and unqualified judges to be permanently inducted into the judiciary is the biggest blunder. Second was the arbitrary arrest of the Chief Judge of the criminal court was another. Here he may still be in trouble. Third was his inability to get along with the parliament where his party till recently had no majority! Fourth was his inability to correctly assess that the Islamic card being used by his opponents is doing a great damage to him and his party.
One would ask what next for Nasheed? It is too early to say- but a fighter as he is, he is not likely to quit politics. He has a majority in the parliament and he could use it to ensure that Yameen does not revert to the autocratic days of Gayoom. The bigger challenge will be to improve his party’s position and that of the of DRP in the coming parliamentary elections and then the council elections.
Nasheed has tough times ahead as the Police is likely to use every opportunity to harass his party, leaders and the cadres in the days to come.