For the opposition to remain hopeful of getting Yameen impeached and disqualified from elections 2018 is a tall order.

political challenges, peace moves, political solution, Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed
Source: Flickr user Dying Regime

After losing the much delayed, nationwide local council elections to the opposition MDP-led combine, President Abdulla Yameen last out them for their 'divided past' and taunted them to return home to take up legal and political challenges. With this, obviously, he has also shut the doors once again on the purported peace moves aimed at an all-round 'political solution'.

"Why should you stay in hiding abroad? Those who thirst for power here should come back to the Maldives. The first thing you should accept is that court verdicts will be binding on everyone," Yameen told his followers at a political rally in capital Male. Among others, the reference obviously was directed at former MDP President, Mohammed 'Anni' Nasheed, who is facing contempt charge after 'jumping jail', and his own half brother and another former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been spending most time outside the country, lest possibly, he (too) could face political harassment.

"It won't do when you criticise these things from afar," the Maldives Independent quoted Yameen as saying. He was obviously referring to the combined opposition's charges of misgovernance, political harassment, human rights issues and economic downtrend. "Our opponents now, they are also opposed to each other. We can see what they have said about each other. But now none of them is in a state where they can provide protection for the other. All of them have collectively gone into self imposed exile."

Yameen also taunted the opposition combine by pointing out how at MDP rallies they were playing now songs praising Gayoom, after they had worked to unseat him from the presidency over a long period. Clearly, the incumbent seemed wanting to divert the cadre attention from the relatively poor performance in the local council elections, and also to sow seeds of confusion in the combined opposition on their 'common candidate', if any, to take on him in the presidential polls, due by November 2018.

Poor turnout

As was only to be anticipated, Yameen-led faction of the ruling PPM came an uncomfortable second after the MDP-led opposition in the local council polls, which his Government had got postponed thrice at least over the past months. Even more important, especially from the opposition standpoint should be the poor turnout, especially in capital Male, with a third of the nation's voters and a combined majority with them.

In the seat count, the ruling combine was 100 members less than the opposition, where the MDP was the dominant player.

Yameen claimed that the difference was caused by the seats where his ruling PPM rebels had contested the party's official candidates.

Neither the result, nor Yameen's explanation is saying a lot, as no details are available about the number of councils that each of the two main combines have won and/or lost. For sure, the MDP retained the three urban, 'population' centres of Male, southern Addu and Fevumulla, with a high seat count. The JP is said to have won 11 seats, all told, but this is not reflective of Gasim's 25 percent first round vote share in 2013.

Prima facie, this voting pattern can well reflect in the presidential polls, too. But there are hitches. Up by two per cent from the voter turnout in the last LG polls, the current figure of 66 percent is way short of the 90 plus poll percentage in 2013 presidential elections. At 44 percent, the voter turnout in Male was worse still. How the Male voters would behave in elections 2018 thus remains a mystery now.

Though Nasheed had lost some of its new/young voters from 2008, elections 2013 still witnessed a substantial rise in the vote share of Jumhooree Party's Gasim Ibrahim, a third ally of his MDP, since. Today, they are together, along with Gayoom and also the religion centric Adhaalath Party (AP), whose leader, Sheikh Imran, is also in prison. But there is no knowing how a low turnout, if any, in the presidential polls could impact on the results.

Hits hard rock

In the absence of guarantees for Nasheed to return home as a freeman and contest elections, and the removal of the Yameen induced 65-year age-limit for Gayoom and Gasim to contest, the combined opposition may not be able to identify and agree upon a 'common candidate'. Gayoom's acknowledged political heir in elder son Faaris Maumoon is a possibility, but all may not be agreeable to the choice, especially the MDP.

Nasheed too would have to make up his mind soon on an alternative candidate from within the party, if he is still denied the opportunity to contest. He will then have to market that candidate (with alternates) within his party and then make his 'choice' acceptable to allies and later on to the Maldivian voters. Gasim would have his own problem being able to retain and then 'transfer' his 25 percent 'committed' voters from the first round in 2013, to a candidate of his choice, whether within the party or from the combined opposition.

For the opposition, freedom for Nasheed seems to have hit a hard rock.

Gasim was arrested and granted bail with stiff conditions, barring him from active politics. The court lifted the conditions after Gasim's legal team cited the Prosecutor General's advice to the police that there was no evidence that he bribed MPs ahead of the failed no-trust-vote against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh.

Faaris Maumoon is the new target as his passport has been impounded after a month-long court ordered travel ban. In his case again, the PG's office said that the funds misappropriation charge dating back to his father's presidency, was time-barred and not maintainable. It is not unlikely that prospective presidential aspirants/candidates from the opposition parties could face a similar fate.

In this background, for the opposition to remain hopeful of getting Yameen impeached and disqualified from elections 2018 is a tall order. Even more difficult would be their agreeing to legal, judicial and legislative measures that could facilitate Nasheed and Gayoom, Gasim and Sheikh Imran becoming free men, with the right to contest elections. Any mutual acrimony could be to their disadvantage unlike in 2008, where the anti-Gayoom parties were still at loggerheads in the first round, but the newly democratic voters did not mind.

Off China Summit

Yameen's serious attention to domestic politics can be gauged from his staying away from the China initiated OBOR Summit in Beijing, and instead addressing party men nearer home. It was also possibly a message to the Indian neighbour, which has boycotted the Summit totally, owing to a variety of bilateral concerns. However, Economic Development Minister, Mohamed Saeed, represented Maldives at the Summit.

Indications are that Yameen, who prides himself as a 'development man' and claims to be inspired by Singapore's Lee Kuan Yew, would make it his election agenda for 2018. The subtext would be that the opposition was fighting for power in the name of democracy, with him and among them. They were thus not concerned about the nation and its people. In the process, they were stalling development and Maldives on the track.

Yameen is expected to present the China funded Male-Hulhule sea-bridge to the airport as his 'electoral offering', and promise more of the kind to the voters, whatever be their ultimate use to the people. However, the local council elections have not provided any evidence to such a campaign working wonders, at least as of now.

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

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