Maldivian presidential election heads for a crucial runoff 

Former President Mohamed Nasheed emerges as kingmaker after first-round surprises.

Published : Sep 10, 2023 09:30 IST - 4 MINS READ

An electoral worker shows a ballot paper during counting the for Maldives’ presidential election in Male on September 9, 2023.

An electoral worker shows a ballot paper during counting the for Maldives’ presidential election in Male on September 9, 2023. | Photo Credit: MOHAMED AFRAH

The Maldivian presidential election headed for a run off on September 30 after no candidate managed to receive the 50 per cent plus vote to win in the first round held on September 9. Former President and current People’s Majlis (parliament) Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, who parted ways with the ruling party, the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), and floated his own party, The Democrats, has emerged as a key figure ahead of the run-off. His support could prove crucial in determining the outcome.

Both the Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Mohamed Muizzu, were confident of winning in the first round and said as much during their campaigns. However, the voters had different plans.

At the end of the vote count, with a total of 2,25,486 votes polled, Muizzu secured the first position with 1,01,635 votes (46.06 per cent), while President “Ibu” Solih, despite the largesse he gave the people in the last few months in power, managed only 86,161 votes (39.05 per cent). In third place was Mohamed Nasheed’s proxy candidate, Ilyas Labeeb, with 15,839 votes (7.18 per cent), according to the Elections Commission. The Maldives has a total of 2,82,395 eligible voters spread across 188 islands within the country and in five countries abroad.

Also Read | Maldives presidential election 2023: Debt, India’s military presence major concerns

In the second round, only the candidates placed first and second will compete. This sets the stage for political negotiations across the spectrum. Nasheed’s new party, The Democrats, finished third in the first round, compelling both Ibu Solih’s party, the MDP, and the PPM to seek his support. The other candidates in the race failed to make a significant impact in the first round. In fact, the closest contender to The Democrats was an independent candidate, Umar Naseer, who garnered less than half the votes secured by The Democrats, with 6,343 votes (2.87 per cent).

Another familiar face in the contest, Jumhooree Party’s Qasim Ibrahim, lagged behind independent candidate Umar Naseer, indicating a decline in his popularity compared to previous elections. Qasim Ibrahim secured only 5,460 votes (2.47 per cent). The Maldivian National Party’s Mohamed Nazim, who claimed during the campaigns that he was the one responsible for expelling India’s GMR company from the Maldives (the company had operated and managed the Male International Airport), positioning himself as the leader of the ‘Indians out of Maldives’ campaign, failed to gain much traction and received only 1,907 votes (0.86 per cent).

Dunya Maumoon, one of the daughters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is an MNP official. Her brother, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, an independent candidate, managed to secure 2,979 votes (1.35 per cent) and won this “sibling rivalry” race.

Mohamed Nasheed and Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in Male on November 1, 2018.

Mohamed Nasheed and Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in Male on November 1, 2018. | Photo Credit: MOHAMED SHARUHAAN

Nasheed’s party ran a “Not Ibu” and “Anyone but Ibu” campaign across the 188 inhabited islands in the Maldives. In an interview with Frontline, Nasheed expressed his intention to support the PPM-People’s National Congress (PNC) candidate, emphasising that his presence could help moderate the PPM-PNC’s anti-India stance.

When asked about his opposition to a second term for Ibu Solih, Nasheed cited his disappointment with the MDP. He wanted a change in the form of government, and despite an agreement drawn up ahead of the 2018 elections, Ibu Solih failed to honour it. Nasheed explained that their differences emerged just before the election, and that they had previously promised to address issues related to the presidential system, transitioning to a parliamentary system, and forming an inclusive government. However, he said, subsequent events made him realise that there was no longer a place for him within the party. He stated, “They might not want to see me out. But when everyone else was not included, marginalised, then there was no reason why I should stay.”

Also Read | Can Maldivian President Ibu Solih defy the odds and secure a second term?

Muizzu received just over 46 per cent of the votes in the first round, while Ibu Solih managed slightly over 39 per cent. For Muizzu to secure victory, he will need to either gain the support of Nasheed (whose representative garnered just over seven per cent of the votes) or seek support from everyone remaining in the field, including Jumhooree Party’s Qasim Ibrahim, the independent Umar Naseer, and Faris Maumoon, and hope that the votes for independent candidates shift in his favour.

Ibu Solih faces a tougher challenge in bridging the 10-plus percent vote gap he requires to win. If Nasheed declines to support him, it will be exceedingly difficult for him to secure enough votes from the smaller parties and independent candidates. Both remaining candidates in the runoff, as well as most political parties, will need to navigate the India-versus-China angle, and will be subjected to pressures from geopolitical actors.

But for most political parties, this situation is not new: it is indeed a happy place to be.

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