Chandrika Kumaratunga role in Maldivian opposition unity

Published : November 26, 2018 18:14 IST

Chandrika Kumaratunga, former Sri Lankan President; Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, former President of the Maldives; Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister; and Mohamed Nasheed, former President of the Maldives, during the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in Male on November 17. Photo: PTI

Former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was one of the main architects of the opposition alliance in the Maldives that trounced President Abdulla Yameen in the September 23 election in the first round, in itself an unprecedented happening.

Just as she helped forge an unlikely alliance in Sri Lanka in 2015 to defeat the seemingly undefeatable President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, in the Maldives Chandrika Kumaratunga played a key role talking to leaders of the opposition political parties who, later, took on the seemingly all-powerful Yameen.

Ahead of the crucial presidential elections in September, Yameen had jailed most of the opposition politicians or had forced them into exile. Besides, he appointed people he could rely on in all major institutions of democracy—the Elections Commission, the Supreme Court and the Police— – and disqualified several members of Parliament who opposed him. 

Despite international pressure, it seemed as if Yameen would walk away with the election. The Yameen government brought in a cut-off age for presidential candidates, which ruled out two of the four well-known faces—former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the business tycoon who runs the Jumhooree Party Gasim Ibrahim. The religion-centred Adaalat Party, which was the third partner in the coalition, did not have the numbers or the reach to be the joint opposition candidate. Former President Mohamed Nasheed, the preferred candidate of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the largest party in the Maldives, was ruled out by the Elections Commission because he was a fugitive from law at that time. (The Maldivian Supreme Court overturned the sentencing of Nasheed on terrorism charges on November 26. The charge against Nasheed was that in 2012, when he was President, he had ordered the detention of Criminal Court judge Abdulla Ghazee.)

Despite the problems faced by all the opposition parties, there was great reluctance among the parties to begin talking to one another because of the trust deficit among them. This  Chandrika Kumaratunga managed to bridge. The trust deficit was because most of the opposition leaders, barring Maumoon Gayoom, were united behind Nasheed in 2008. Soon after coming to power, Nasheed decided that he did not need allies. In 2013, the entire opposition rooted for Yameen. Just a year after coming to power, Yameen came down heavily on anyone who dared to oppose him.  

Chandrika Kumaratunga confirmed to Frontline that she had indeed helped bring the opposition together. “She did play somewhat of a role in coordinating with opposition leaders of the Maldives, both in Sri Lanka and through her international contacts,” a statement from her office, in response to a specific question from this correspondent, said.

But Chandrika was aghast at what was going on in Sri Lanka: “ I am extremely sad that a similar operation I did in Sri Lanka to bring together the opposing forces for the sake of Sri Lanka has been betrayed by some of the leaders of the government who didn’t have a clue about what participatory governance is nor did they understand democracy. I hope this does not happen in the Maldives.”

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