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Maldives: Will Nasheed be able to contest presidential polls?

Camping in Colombo for the second time in as many months, former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed has expressed his decision to contest his MDP primaries for the presidential polls back home, due by November 2018. Given the uncompleted part of the court-ordered prison-term for Nasheed, and also his obtaining political asylum in the UK after going there on ‘prison leave’ for medical treatment, President Abdulla Yameen has advised the MDP to look for another candidate, instead.

Nasheed had started off the current phase of his anti-Yameen campaign by calling for a common Opposition candidate against the incumbent in the polls next year. He also reiterated his two-month old proposition to seek an alliance with Yameen’s PPM faction, headed by party founder Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Reporting Nasheed’s views expressed at a Colombo news conference, Sri Lankan newspaper, The Island, reported that if he was not allowed to contest the presidency, the MDP would back a common opposition candidate.

At the news conference, Nasheed said he was basing his hopes on contesting the presidential elections on the findings of the UN Working Group for Arbitrary Detentions, which held his imprisonment as ‘illegal’ and called for the restoration of his civil and civic rights. However, both in the case of Nasheed and also of another one-time Yameen loyalist and jailed ex-Defence Minister Ahmed Naseem more recently, the Government lost no time in criticising the UN Group’s findings.

To be more specific, Nasheed also said that he hoped to win the party primaries, about which no one should have any doubts, if he were to contest and is allowed to contest, too. The chances are that the party might elect him unanimously, as in 2013. It may not be the case if he were not to contest – or is disqualified from contesting even the primaries. The opinion of the Election Commission, and that of the nation’s Judiciary, could come in way, whatever be the arguments. An MDP rebel like sacked ex-party chairman in ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, now backing Yameen, has already threatened to play spoiler (if he could help).

Related:   Maldives: 1% land. 100% fun.

Read also | Maldives: Opposition plans common candidate against President Yameen

Simultaneously, the MDP has also elected a new party chairperson in the place of Ali Waheed, who has also been away in the UK for nearly two years. With 105 of the 202 ballot-boxes counted, former MDP minister and prominent lawyer Hassan Latheef was voted in with over 45 percent of the near-50,000 registered members. Latheef described his election a “big responsibility”, adding that reforming the internal operations of the party was his ‘biggest priority’. That’s saying a lot, considering that the MDP has been a top-down party since Nasheed’s ascendancy, who however continues to be its ‘Leader’ and guiding-star and vote-getter.

Futile bid: Yameen

At a party function in the southern Addu City, Yameen pooh-poohed Nasheed’s claims to contesting the presidential polls as a ‘futile bid’, implying that under the law he remained disqualified. He likened the MDP second-line leadership as a ‘flock of ducklings’ that are lost whenever the ‘mother duck’ (meaning Nasheed) was not around.

The MDP, Yameen said, should elect another candidate, to fight him in the presidential polls. Apart from the fact that Nasheed is ‘disqualified’ just now, Yameen also seemed hoping for a split, either between the MDP and other parties opposed to him, or within the MDP, or both. “I don’t understand at all how this can be done (of Nasheed contesting the presidency), given the laws of the Maldives. So the party has to untie itself from its mother’s apron strings. The party has to believe that it can create other leaders,” Yameen said further.

Related:   Maldives: 1% land. 100% fun.

However, Nasheed himself remained unfazed while addressing the possible issues attending on the presidential elections. While claiming that he hoped to be nominated by the MDP, at his Colombo news conference, he however expressed doubts about the elections at all being held in the first place. “It’s not my fault that people support me. It’s very sad that people don’t support President Yameen, even from his own party,” Nasheed said, pooh-poohing Yameen’s reference to the MDP’s over-dependence on him.

The Yameen-led official faction of the PPM meanwhile has claimed that the party’s membership has shot up by a substantial 11,000. The Election Commission needs to verify and certify the number, but in a country with a 350,000 population and 200,000 voters (all above 18 years), it’s saying a lot – be it the MDP’s ability to retain its 50,000-strong membership and the PPM’s claims to 11,000 new members. However, only the Election Commission’s figures would show if they are all new voters or have migrated from other political parties.

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According to the Maldives Independent, at the new PPM headquarters designed and inaugurated by Yameen, Home Minister Azleen Ahmed declared the PPM to be “the most popular party in the world” while MP Abdul Raheem said the party’s aim is to increase its membership to 150,000, nearly two-thirds of eligible voters, before 2018’s presidential election.

Gayoom silent

The Gayoom leadership of the PPM faction is yet to react to the developments within the MDP, and to Nasheed’s declaration of his intent to contest the presidency through the party.  Nor has the group reacted to Nasheed’s reiteration for a combined Opposition to take on Yameen in the presidential polls.

Related:   Maldives: 1% land. 100% fun.

However, senior faction leader Umar Naseer has announced his plans to travel to the UK and meet up with MDP-led Maldives United Opposition (MUO) chair, Mohamad Jameel Ahmed, to discuss the presidential polls. Jameel was Vice-President under Yameen before impeachment in 2015, and Umar Naseer Home Minister until quitting office overnight to identify even more with the Gayoom faction ahead of the formal split, late last year.

Naseer had made his intention to contest the 2018 presidential polls even while losing to Yameen in the PPM primaries and later joining the Government. It’s remains to be seen if and how a Jameel-Naseer confabulation would shake up in this long run-up to the presidential polls, or if Naseer would be representing the Gayoom faction at the talks, or not.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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