IT was inevitable. The Maldivian people declared on September 7 that the leader who claimed he had been wronged and demanded of them a first-round victory in the presidential election, former President Mohamed Nasheed, was not all that wronged, after all. They sure did give him an unprecedented number of votes—95,224 (45.45 per cent)—but denied him the 50 per cent plus one vote required to win the election. They did not buy his “coup” theory. He will have to fight it out again in the run-off with Abdulla Yaameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), who came in second, on September 28.
Since the day after he resigned under controversial circumstances on February 7, 2012, Nasheed has been telling people across the Maldives, an archipelago of 1,200 islands of which about 200 are populated, that he was ousted in a coup by a team of unscrupulous politicians and businessmen. The “wronged” man took the issue to the people: he visited all the inhabited islands, travelled to Colombo and Malaysia to campaign (ballot boxes are maintained in six foreign cities), and kept a punishing campaign schedule for over 18 months. “Coup” was his running theme; he called the government led by President Mohamed Waheed a “coup government”.
TV debate In a television debate involving the presidential hopefuls, a first in Maldivian history, Nasheed kept harping on the coup. The state broadcaster, Television Maldives, organised the show, with questions to the candidates prepared by a panel of experts from the Maldivian National University.
For more than an hour, people sat with rapt attention across the Maldives as they watched their candidates debating and answering questions, taking potshots at one another and offering solutions to issues of importance. Though the debate was in Dhivehi, it was easy to notice one candidate’s comfort with the medium in contrast with the three others. Nasheed was effortlessly at ease on live television, looked and sounded eager, and asked people to elect him on his record and his party’s policies.
Yaameen held his own in the debate. President Waheed, who contested as an independent with support from a few formations, was to the point, but allowed his anger to show. The business tycoon who upset everyone’s calculations, Qasim Ibrahim, could not make much headway.
“Nasheed kept talking about the February 7 incident, which he repeatedly referred to as a ‘coup’. No matter what the question, he came back to the coup,” said Azra Naseem, a Maldivian academic, who studies the phenomenon of terrorism and radicalisation. “He held the three other candidates responsible for the state the country was in today, while they tried to disassociate themselves from the current mess,” she said.
September 7 results Yaameen got 53,099 (25.35 per cent) of the votes, and the millionaire resort owner, who runs a political party, the Jumhooree Party, Qasim Ibrahim, came a close third, with 50,422 votes (24.07 per cent). Waheed was placed last and got an appalling 10,750 votes (5.13 per cent). As much as 88.4 per cent of the 2,39,593 voters exercised their franchise.
In many ways, this represents a second-round bout, with the old order pitted against the new. In the first round of the 2008 elections—the first multiparty presidential election in the Maldives—Nasheed had come second with less than 25 per cent of the votes. In first place was the person who ruled Maldives for 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He won well over 40 per cent of the votes. In the second-round, all the other political parties joined hands with Nasheed, and he sailed over the halfway mark.
History repeats itself History may repeat itself. The second time, as the saying goes, as a farce. The person who came in second, Yaameen, an economist and Gayoom’s half-brother, is a shrewd operator. He is likely to get the alliances in place, just as Nasheed did in 2008. As the results of the first round came in, he began to get in touch with political parties and formations. “I am in touch with everyone,” he said. A victory matters, and there is no way to go without allies.
Yaameen told this reporter that he was confident that many of the political parties he had contacted would support him. He had also called up Qasim and requested his support. The worrying factor for Nasheed is that the combined votes of Yaameen and Qasim add up to more than what he polled.
This fact is not lost on Nasheed. Until the results flowed in, Nasheed maintained that he would not entertain allies because “it does not work in a presidential system”. He described them as alliances of convenience and a grouping of “vested interests”. Though he needs only an additional 5 per cent of the votes (about 10,000 votes) to win the election, it will not be easy for his Maldivian Democratic Party to garner the votes without a solid ally. Hence, Nasheed declared the day after the election that he and his party would talk to individuals who supported the MDP manifesto. “There are lots of sentiments. I will act as the party decides, and how the public is viewing the results,” he said.
“Last time [in 2008], everyone ganged up against [the incumbent President, seen by many as a dictator] Gayoom. This time, quite a few parties will join Yaameen,” said a South Asian diplomat.
The caveats There are a few caveats that could work in Nasheed’s favour. Gayoom’s brother-in-law, Ilyas Ibrahim, who left the PPM over his differences with its leadership, is now with Qasim. So is Umar Nazeer, who competed against Yaameen in the PPM preliminaries to run for President. Nazeer, a charismatic and rising leader, too had left the party alleging irregularities in the manner in which the preliminaries were conducted. The Dhivehi Qaumee Party’s leader Hassan Saeed, who was Qasim’s running mate, will not want to be associated with the PPM.
Nasheed’s problem is that his core vote base does not want an alliance. Most of his supporters have been at the receiving end of governance in the past 18 months and have worked hard. Nasheed’s chances of victory will depend on how he juggles this fact with the need to attract an additional 10,000 votes.