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MDP: A Maldivian Political Party that Changed the Course of pathways to Democracy

In the twenty-year span, in the Maldives, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) changed the course of the island nations pathways to a multi-party democratic system.   It is impossible to imagine how this happened when MDP was founded in November 2003.  At that time making predictions about the democratic set up of Maldives was a complicated task. The democratic political environment of the Indian Ocean island country includes a variety of actors from islands and atolls which may influence socio-economic policy outputs of the island nation. In this context Maldives, economic reforms have gone hand in hand with political restructuring. The MDP path has been very different where the MDP movement in the Maldives was characterised by grassroots activists seeking to influence policy and challenge powerful undemocratic forces led by Mohamed Nasheed, a youthful leader in mid-2004.

In early 2005, the pro-democracy   groups were much more successful in building a strong support for the MDP. It is obvious that the expansion of the Maldivian Democratic Party membership from 42 people in 2003 to 29277 in 2018 altered the status of the political direction of the Indian ocean island country. Perhaps, the biggest road block to solving the representative democratic system was the lack of a new constitution. For the first time, the idea of organizing along colour lines had emerged and taken roots in the island landscape of the Maldives. Never before had a politician from across the Maldivian islands had opted to contest from different parties. In that time, then the government insisted that some of the corruption claims made in public by the opposition were misleading or false.  On the other hand  the Maldivian politicians were losing public trust.

The 2008 Maldivian presidential election had overturned a big assumption about Maldives democratization process. At that time, defeating these undemocratic foes may prove impossible. But the first steps to reversing pro democracy  movement   was to  recognize fundamental similarities between the opposition parties. During the 2008 presidential election, candidate Mohamed Nasheed or  commonly known as “Anni” appeared to have regarded his policies as essential tasks  that the former Maldivian President’s perceived as modernising the nation  . Surprisingly, President  Maumoon Gayoom   lost his re-election bid in the second round in the presidential election to the MDP leader Mohamed Nasheed. During Nasheed’s three-year rule, much of the popular support enjoyed  by him previously may have declined. This did not seem to have diminished popular support for democratic principles.

One of the main factors that impacted the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)rule was the privatisation of the Male’ International Airport where Indian GMR Infrastructural company had a significant share. This remained one of the most controversial element during MDP rule. In February 2012, Mohamed Nasheed stepped down from the presidency following the coup, to  oust the president . Nothing like this has ever occurred before. His place was taken by Vice President  Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan. After the fall of Mohamed Nasheed government in 2012, a slow but increasing tide of opposition party members joining the MDP began. The MDP street protest reflected the anxiety and anger for deposing  the former President Nasheed. During the protest flanked by  party supporters  chanting ‘Nasheed Zindabad’  was   usual occurrence in Male’. In the meantime, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom chose Abdulla Yameen as his party successor for the  forthcoming presidential election. In the 2013 presidential election, the rejection of MDP presidential candidate by the voters was a shock for MDP supporters. According to pro MDP camp support base in Islands, there were many indications that majority of the people were in favour of MDP presidential candidate at that time. In the end, MDP lost its grip on power when Nasheed was defeated by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader  Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

In fact, President Yameen who succeeded  Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan in the presidency faced an even more difficult task in running the government after 2016. But Yameen’s era has taken an entirely unexpected direction during the past two years. During this difficult time, MDP enjoyed a considerable amount of support from India, Sri Lanka, Western nations and the Maldivian diaspora. In the last couple of months, a new wave of democratic uprising emerged from the capital Male’ to faraway islands in the Maldives. Hence the during the  past two years, most members of the MDP experienced a degree of difficulty. Comparatively, the political situation was somewhat more volatile  compared to the 2008 presidential election . Suddenly the progressive  Party  of Maldives (PPM)  tenure of governance  was rocked by a series of events and the nation was in a critical juncture in the post-independence history of Maldives. There was a widespread perception that corruption had taken place . Maldivians have also been losing faith in their politicians. As a result, Maldivian Prsident Yameen lost the 2018 presidential election to the MDP led coalition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Over the past quarter century, there is promising evidence to put beside this courageous findings of Maldivian political leaders like Maumoon Gayoom , Mohamed Nasheed and Qasim Ibrahim struggling to stabilise the Maldivian democratic process. In the Maldives where until 2014 women parliamentarians accounted for only  5.88% (   Inter-Parliamentary Union 2016) of the  85 elected  members of  the Peoples Majilis ( Maldivian  Parliament ) .  The first test  saw  seven  female  ministers out of 19 in the President Solih’s cabinet.. One could argue that what would Maldives democracy look like if there were no Maldivian Democratic party? Following the MDPs recent victory in a presidential election, former Maldivian President Nasheed may go into history as a political reformer. Yet, one could say that there is not a democratization problem in the Maldives, but rather  a diversity in the political  culture wanting  transparent policies  that  suite different  Atolls in the Maldives . The impact of the democratic transition in the  island nation can be understood in terms of improving the representative democracy into the country. Looking through the lens of Maldivian democratic transition, MDP as a mainstream political party also put a very high value on the democratic transition  process of Maldives.

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