Pro-India candidate in the Maldivian Presidential election, the incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (Ibu), lost to the Male city Mayor, Mohamed Muizzu, backed by the China-leaning Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), in the run-off election held on September 30.
President Ibu Solih managed only 109,868 votes (45.96 per cent of the votes polled), while his challenger, who shifted parties just to secure a nomination to run for President, won with 129,159 votes (54.04 per cent). Of the 2.82 lakh voters, as many as 2.4 lakh exercised their franchise. A campaign by disillusioned voters seeking a NOTA option did not get very far. Only 7,888 votes were invalid.
The run-off was necessitated because no clear winner emerged with the Constitution mandates 50 per cent plus one vote in the September 9 first round election, which witnessed a diverse field of contestants. In the first round, of the 225,486 votes polled, Muizzu was placed in first position, securing 101,635 votes (46.06 per cent), while President ‘Ibu’ Solih, managed only 86,161 votes (39.05 per cent). In third place was former President Mohamed Nasheed’s proxy candidate, Iliyas Labeeb (15,839 votes; 7.18 per cent).
Of the five other candidates in the first round, none managed even a three per cent vote share. In an interaction with Frontline, Nasheed declared that he will not support Ibu in the run-off of the Presidential election. But PPM did not cut an open deal with him either, because he had already laid all his cards on the table.
While Muizzu is not part of the PPM’s anti-India campaign and the slogan ‘India Out,’ he will find it impossible to function if he does not support the PPM agenda. Muizzu has talked about “regaining Maldivian freedom,” which is a euphemism for demanding that all Indian military personnel in the country be recalled by India.
Fake news directed against India was one of the main ingredients in the first round of the campaign. Events in India, including the treatment of Indian minorities were massive propaganda points for the PPM. In fact, the communal violence in Manipur and the anti-Muslim rant of a BJP member of Parliament, Ramesh Bidhuri, were among the WhatsApp messages that was sent out to voters in Maldives.
The nation is 100 per cent Sunni Muslim, and when this correspondent was in Male city, ahead of the first round of elections, many locals had enquired about the status of Muslims in India. Muizzu’s victory throws up several questions for India as his victory has the potential to stall almost all India-led development work in the country.
In emerging the winner in 2023, Muizzu has defied the commonly held belief that if one leads in the first round, that candidate cannot manage to win the election. In the first round of Presidential elections held for the first time after Maldives became a multi-party democracy in 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom won an impressive 40.63 per cent of the votes polled, while his challenger, the young. Mohamed Nasheed managed a mere 25.09 per cent, according to statistics available at the Maldives Elections Commission.
“This is not surprising because there were only referendums before 2008,” said Hamid Abdul Gafoor, formerly a senior official with the Maldivian Democratic Party. “Till the first election in 2008, people were used to affixing a ‘tick-mark’ in a ballot which either has a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ printed on it. But when everyone else aligned against Maumoon in the second round, it was fairly clear who would win,” he added.
In the second round of elections, a run-off between Maumoon and Nasheed, held on October 28, 2008, Nasheed, who was way behind in the first round, came from behind to defeat Maumoon (polling 54.21 per cent to 45.79 per cent).
In the 2013 elections, held after the bloodless coup of February 7, 2012, in which Nasheed was ousted, Nasheed was again on the ballot. He secured the most votes in the first round (46.93 per cent), while a new challenger, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom from a then newly formed party, The Progressive Party of Maldives, secured 29.72 per cent of the votes. The third person in the race, whose support to Nasheed proved decisive in the second round in 2008, Gasim Ibrahim, secured 23.34 per cent. Gasim changed sides this time largely because Nasheed miscalculated that he could win without broad-based support from the likes of Gasim.
With all the smaller political parties throwing their lot with the PPM, Nasheed slid to a shock defeat in 2013. Abdulla Yameen, who was elected President, changed the course of the archipelago nation, firmly placing it in the Chinese orbit. Yameen, who is currently serving a jail term for corruption and embezzlement, proved to be a reliable ally for the Chinese. His period also saw the repression of protests and assassination of journalists, in a nation largely known as a peaceful, upmarket, honeymoon location.
Nasheed’s miscalculation ahead of the 2013 elections landed him jail and became the precursor for the problems that led to him endorsing his childhood friend, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih for President in 2018. The Nasheed –Solih deal was to allow for a transfer of power from Presidential to Parliamentary form of government within 18 months of Solih taking office. But that did not happen and the Nasheed – Solih split grew wider, even as a disinterested India watched from the sidelines.
Just ahead of the 2023 elections, Nasheed moved away from the party that is closely identified with him, the Maldivian Democratic Party, and floated a new party, the Democrats. This party proved decisive in Solih ending up with a very poor show in the first round of Presidential elections on September 9.
Nasheed’s party ran with the ‘Anyone but Ibu’ campaign in the first round.
Now, they have it.