Maldives: Yameen’s dilemma

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By N. Sathiya Moorthy

Following his twin electoral failures of the past months, former President Abdulla Yameen seems needing his party and the socialist-conservative constituency more than ever. However, the constituency and possibly the party/parties, too, seem to be looking out for a new and credible leadership that can lead them to victory in the nation-wide local council polls next year – and beyond, too.

 The divided socialist-conservative constituency that was demoralised, especially after President Ibrahim Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) ‘clean sweep’ of the parliamentary polls last month, have now cause for some hope – though not celebration. Though Yameen had lost the presidential polls, his 42-per cent vote-share against victorious Solih’s 58 per cent had kept their hopes alive. But not after provisional results of the parliamentary polls gave the MDP 65 of the 87 seats, with a whopping vote-share of 75 per cent.

According to the official results, published a few days after the polls, the MDP, while retaining the provisionally-declared 65 seats, however, has polled only 46 per cent. Critics of the party are quick to claim the rest are all non-MDP voters though many of them too are ‘anti-Yameen’. It is based on such a construct that some of them are already talking about a new leadership for Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine.

Even before the parliamentary polls, others were also speaking of the need and possibility of expanding re-discovering the traditional ‘socialist-conservative’ base. According to them, the constituency suffered the first set-back when incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom lost to MDP’s Mohammed Nasheed in the first multi-party democracy polls of 2008. Further deterioration set in when Yameen lost to Solih in the 23 September presidential polls last year.

The conservatives, other than close aides of Yameen are not ready to concede much credit to him for winning the 2013 presidential polls against Nasheed, who had ‘quit’ office before his five-year term ended, in February 2012. According to them, whether it was Nasheed (2008), or Yameen (2013) or Solih (2018), their victory in the presidential polls owed to a cross-ideology coalition, based on more immediate issues.

Anti-incumbency vote

In the eyes of the traditional conservatives, all three were anti-incumbency votes, whether long term or short. To them, Gayoom’s 30 years’ of rule was their best, and also of the nation’s – but others, contest. They are unwilling to consider, leave alone concede the emergence of a pro-democracy plank, under the MDP, particularly with the passing of generations.

Youth comprises over half the nation’s population/voters. Independent analysts have argued that born into new-found prosperity heralded by the Gayoom regime, the youth of the ‘communication era’ were/are inclined to looking for change as much in governmental approach as in personal life and life-styles.

The conservatives concede the point half-heartedly, but counter-argue. To them, Gayoom’s inability to change with the times and with the new-generations was the cause of his electoral downfall and of their constituency. They have no explanation, why then should Yameen, Gayoom’s estranged half-brother, too, failed the same way, to the same, right-liberal constituency. Their inability to ‘speak the language of the youth’, and also their overarching inability to ‘communicate’ can explain their failure/failings, only partially.

Unkindest cuts

That all is not well for the Gayoom clan, comprising the two ex-Presidents and the former’s four politician-children became clearer during the September polls last year, when the two lost even more miserably in the parliamentary polls. Yet, the ‘unkindest cut’, if it could be called, in Yameen’s case came about when his chosen PPM House leader Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik quit the post after losing his seat in the new Parliament, to be sworn in on 28 May.

Nihan, who incidentally was sent back from the Chennai airport in India after Yameen presidency’s anti-democracy initiatives last year, did not stop there. He wanted the entire party leadership to quit as well, providing for the new generation to take over the reins for the future. Translated, it meant that Yameen had failed the party and/or the nation’s conservatives, and should quit, too.

Nihan did not talk about the pending and upcoming court cases and investigations against Yameen, which could tie down the PPM-PNC combine in unending legal knots and political embarrassment, in the coming months, especially ahead of next year’s local council polls. Though Yameen’s arrest and legal problems were not unexpected, his untimely arrest only a month ahead of the parliamentary polls did demoralise the campaign cadres, denied the party the required leadership and funds, until the High Court released both only a week ahead of polling – too late for their good.

The trial against Yameen in the ‘money-laundering case’ can go all the way up to the Supreme Court. So do can other criminal cases that the police is just now investigating – apart from those that may be taken up for his ‘anti-democracy’ acts and decisions, if the MDP administration could find a way to hold him legally and constitutionally accountable.

Wants party more

Today, Yameen needs the party more than ever before. It was equally so when he was contesting the presidential polls in 2013. The party’s need for his leadership was confined to the term of his presidency, he having foisted himself on the PPM, ousting even party founder Gayoom. So much so, when the Maldives Independent, reporting Nihan’s decision and suggestion, indicated that the PPM-PNC combine might look for a younger leader, Yameen promptly named two vice-presidents for the former.

One of the two vice-presidents, Ghassan Maumoon, is one of the elected PPM parliamentarians now, is one of half-brother Gayoom’s four children. With the Gayoom clan otherwise down and out, with older son, Faaris, a one-time presidential aspirant, losing his parliamentary seat too this time, Yameen seems to be hoping to re-orient Gayoom’s 45 per cent ‘family votes’ from Elections-2008, and leverage to regain his lost constituency (42 per cent vote-share) from last year’s presidential polls at the very least.

The ‘Gayoom constituency’ is no more there, but the conservatives still seem to dominate the electoral scene, though divided as they are. Or, that seems to be the calculation of all those who want an anti-MDP grouping to emerge. The Maldives Independent had named Yameen’s estranged Home Minister Umar Naseer and/or impeached Vice-President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed as possible candidate(s).

Though neither has reacted, there may be another or other ‘dark horse(s)’, if at all it came to that. Given the emerging national, regional and global scenario, the PPM, wanting to shed the ‘conservative image’, may also consider electing a woman leader. As may be recalled, the MDP, wanting set a precedent and sent out a message, chose Mariya Didi, now Defence Minister, as the party’s chairperson when Nasheed was President. It is another matter even otherwise, the MDP had appealed to the urban woman-voters, and also youth of both genders.

Conservative constituency

Whatever the future holds, the MDP cannot afford to overlook the conservatives’ argument that all that is not the party’s votes is theirs – only to be mopped up under an all-acceptable common leader, or a collective leadership, whether under a single party or more. Citing the parliamentary poll figures, the argument is that the remaining 54 per cent was non-MDP, mostly anti-Yameen votes, and can be clubbed together as ‘conservative constituency’ still.

With 81.3 per cent of the 264,442 votes polled, Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine polled 16 per cent vote-share from 46 constituencies, though winning only eight seats. Outgoing Speaker Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoore Party (JP), which continues to be in the MDP-led ruling coalition even while contesting against the party – that too in the PPM-PNC company, brokered at the last minute, polled 11.2 per cent votes, winning five seats out of 41 contested.

Independent candidates, including 21 fielded by Gayoom’s Maldives Reform Movement (MRM), and adding up to 174, polled the second highest 21.6 per cent votes. Among the seven victors, one is from Gayoom’s MRM but most others, including JP and PPM rebels, are expected to work with President Solih. For the record, PPM’s one-time coalition partner in the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) won two seats with 2.9 per cent vote-share.

Speculation for future

These figures read better than the provisional figures put out by the ‘The Edition-Mihaaru’ media house. While seat-shares are exact as the final figures, the provisional figures had put the MDP vote-share at an all-time high of 75 per cent for any political party or candidate in the ‘democracy era’. According to the provisional figures, the PPM-PNC combine got nine per cent votes, JP five per cent and Independents 8.5 per cent.

The question still remains such calculations of the non-MDP/anti-MDP ‘conservatives’ are relevant to the ground situation? If nothing else, soon after the presidential polls, the future, if not fate, of the Yameen-centric PPM-PNC combine was known, so was the MDP decision to go it alone, leaving behind the three allies whose votes (too) had helped Solih win the presidency for the party.

Yet, the ‘anti-MDP’ parties and the Independents, including Gayoom’s MRM, could not bring themselves around to working together and more particularly to work with/under Yameen. They however can have consolation that incumbent Yameen’s 42 per cent in the presidential polls that he contested alone was close to MDP’s 46 per cent in the parliamentary elections, which the party faced on its own. The rest is all speculation in and for the future!

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)