Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Sep 17, 2016
Are Nasheed, Gayoom on the same page really?

As anticipated, a day after former Maldivian President Mohammed 'Anni' Nasheed declared that he and predecessor Maummon Abdul Gayoom had come to an agreement on the terms of having incumbent Abdulla Yameen ousted, the latter has promptly denied any such move (at least just now). This could delay the anti-Yameen consolidation of Maldivian political forces, but does not, however, automatically rule out the possibility. In such a case, the implied rider is that Gayoom would drive a hard bargain, at every turn, and also work iron-clad, verifiable guarantees at implementation.

The Hindu quoted Nasheed from his Skype interview to Colombo-based foreign correspondents that he had "come to a clear agreement with ... Gayoom" in black and white, but could not spell out the details. Nasheed  said the "internal contradictions in Male would play out very soon," implying a vertical split in Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), of which Gayoom, a half-brother, is the chairman.

"How can you build a future if you always want to go back to the past," The Hindu quoted Nasheed as saying. "Gayoom, he said, understood that the country had no future for the next generation without democracy." This apart, Nasheed said, "It would be difficult for a Maldivian politician to act on a regime that enjoys the support of the international community," and expected the international community to give up on the Yameen leadership.

Without much loss of time, the Gayoom faction of the PPM, or PPM-G for short, promptly dismissed Nasheed’s claims as "lies".  Maldivian web journal, Miadhu, quoted PPM Secretary General Aleem to say that Nasheed did not talk or have had any kind of deals with Maummoon or PPM so far.  The PPM also released a statement of the kind, and Aleem said that the party did not want to "respond to everything Nasheed says or respond every time Nasheed says something." They did not see it as important, he added.

"That is why President Maumoon tweeted today saying that a truth will be the truth even if it is said once, and that a lie will be a lie even if it is repeated 1000 times," Aleem explained further. Strong words these from Gayoom, who seems to be under pressure to clarify his position on Nasheed’s claims from within his own faction and what still remains the 'undivided PPM', at least on paper.

< style="color: #163449;">Credibility concerns

Keen observers of Maldives politics alone would acknowledge the credibility concerns among the nation’s various leaders when it comes to alliance-formation. After the experiences of Presidents Nasheed and Yameen, for instance, no future leader would want to trust his Vice President. Translated, it would mean that future presidential candidates are going to find it even more difficult to zero in on a vice presidential running mate, who could still bring in some votes of his own to the kitty and at the same time would not be over-ambitious, to 'plot to usurp' the term mid-way.

Gayoom lost credibility on democracy front, and was seen as having made enemies of every aide and friend through his 30 long years in office. In a way, it’s this anxiety of that in office that may have got telescoped in the person of the Vice President in subsequent terms. Sidelining them, or imprisoning them and impeaching them, and other challengers, including prospective ones, may have flowed from what’s emerging as a 'Maldivian political trait.'

In this, Nasheed comes with an additional burden for an opposition leader in the present circumstances. Again another 'Maldivian presidential trait' under the multiparty democracy scheme, it may be argued. Incumbent Yameen is credited with closing future 'opportunities' for electoral ally Gasim Ibrahim, the Jumhooree Party founder. Yameen refused to have Gasim as Parliament Speaker first, and later on amended the Constitution to fix a 65 year upper age-limit for contesting the presidency in future elections.

Yameen’s fear viz Gasim, for instance, may have been centred on the constitutional possibility of the Speaker assuming 'presidency' in the interim if Parliament were to impeach the President and Vice President simultaneously. Yameen may have also been weighed down by Gasim’s 25 percent vote-share in the first round of the 2013 presidential polls, up from 16 percent in 2008. It was Gasim’s 'transferrable votes' from the first round that had made the difference to the second and final round polling in both.

Nasheed faces similar prospects as Yameen on the 'credibility front,' or so it seems. After bagging only 25 percent vote share in the first round in 2008 against incumbent Gayoom’s high 40 percent, he could make it to the presidency only with the help of the 'transferrable votes' of Gasim (16 percent) and Hassan Saeed (17 percent). If they had not struck any deal about the future, especially the pending parliamentary polls, it was bad enough. If they had, still Nasheed did not honour his part of the deal, or perceptions and prospects of a deal.

In effect, it meant that President Nasheed got Hassan Saeed and Gasim offloaded from his Government, where they had held certain political or ministerial positions, even before the ink on his takeover order had dried. Under him, the MDP came up with an un-spelt new theory that seat-sharing for the parliamentary polls would be linked to alliance partners merging their parties with the MDP.

In the process, Nasheed and the MDP also got Hassan Saeed-led party split. It’s such an approach that also dictated President-Vice President relations, with V. P. Waheed Hassan Manik, feeling left out of all major decisions of the Government. The emerging situation was there for all to see, but the MDP leadership was blind to the havoc that it was inflicting on itself and the nation. In sum, President Nasheed and the MDP treated their V. P. Waheed as an 'adversary' and he later behaved as one.

< style="color: #163449;">Returning to UK

In the present context, Miadhu has also quoted a senior PPM figure as saying that Nasheed was "using Maumoon’s name to become more famous because Nasheed is failing in every possible way." It may be too much of criticism against Nasheed, but there could be no denying the fact that Gayoom would not yield to current MDP attempts to push him to the wall and then negotiate.

From a Gayoom perspective, the current MDP attempts seems to make Yameen suspect his party leadership even more than already, thus creating a rift that the former has been delaying for his own reasons. Gayoom just does not want to yield, and lose the initiative to Nasheed. He knows that on the election front, Nasheed has an advantage, and anything that he could achieve would have to be only in the earlier stages — relating to a parliamentary impeachment of Yameen. But the Gayoom camp would obviously want to have a comprehensive deal that included future elections, without giving the MDP any chance to ditch them.

It’s this shadowboxing initiated by Nasheed that seems to be behind his sudden decision to land in neighbouring Sri Lanka from his 'asylum home' in the UK one day without notice, and leave Colombo, again without notice, not long after, only to follow it up with the Skype interview, now. Clearly, Nasheed needs to keep the morale of his cadres back home high, and needs to be seen as doing something without being seen by them as his having settled down in the comforts of the UK against the prisons of Maldives.

The fact remains, Nasheed’s sympathisers and supporters are not the ones to give up easily on him, and he does not have to demonstrate his intentions and effectiveness, time and again. Yet, if his international backers were to act on his beliefs, or their beliefs of his beliefs, they would not have crossed the full stream. It could still be 'Advantage Yameen,' and/or 'Advantage Gayoom,' in the context of creating a combined opposition as against what Nasheed and the MDP would want.

< style="color: #163449;">In a hurry?

The Skype interview was not Nasheed’s first attempt at convincing the world that he and Gayoom were already on the same page. "It would be foolhardy to reject his help," Nasheed had told the The Indian Express from Colombo, only a week earlier. "We have always understood democracy to be the best path of development and a better life," Nasheed said further, before leaving Colombo for London. "We’ve always advocated that, and when we see Gayoom on the same page as us, it would be very foolhardy of us to turn around and go," he said further. It’s easier said than done, however.

Nasheed’s Colombo visit in August surprised many observers of Maldives, as the MDP-led Maldives United Opposition (MUO) did not seem to have any workable game plan to have Yameen ousted. His quickfire return to London was equally confusing, with indications that Maldives Government might have applied legitimate pressure on Sri Lanka not to house a 'Maldivian fugitive' in the friendly neighbourhood.

Selective euphoria apart, questions remain about the viability and feasibility of Nasheed and Gayoom working together. For starters, it’s as yet unclear if hardcore elements within Nasheed’s MDP would be ready for an(y) accommodation with Gayoom. After all, the party and the leader had painted Gayoom in all shades of black with not even an element of grey, in relation to his 30 long years in office.

In the process, they also failed to acknowledge Gayoom’s greater — or lesser — contribution to the nation’s economy, tourism policy, healthcare and education, in particular. It’s this that later on made democracy possible, by igniting the 21st century minds in the Indian Ocean archipelago. In the process, they may have also hurt the Gayoom camp followers enough for them to pressure their leader into not yielding on any alternate to Yameen — especially too early and for too little.

< style="color: #163449;">Within the Constitution

Against this, Gayoom’s overseas visit — mostly to Kaula Lumpur, where he spends considerable time after leaving the presidency — and return are mostly kept under wraps. Even when he returned home at the height of the present government crisis and expectations, there was little or no media reportage. Even identifiable pro-MDP sections of the local media did not report the same, as was the wont in the past.

On the political front, the PPM-G, if the Gayoom faction could be dubbed so, has since clarified that their leader would act within the Constitution. In a short statement, the party added that he would not engage in any unlawful activities. Gayoom himself sent out a tweet advising followers accordingly. It was not without political reason or administrative logic.

Maldives, Gayoom, politics Photolabs@ORF

On the one hand, PPM-G’s reaction might have poured cold waters on the MDP’s plans on an early exit by Yameen, at least for now. It’s a clear indication that Gayoom is in no hurry to have Yameen out, not at least until the future course had been discussed and decided upon in detail. One, he would not want to be blamed for future instability, if any. More importantly, he is not ready to hand over Maldives to Nasheed and the MDP-MUO on a platter.

In a way, PPM-G’s statement also contests Nasheed’s statement that Gayoom would be part of an(y) interim government formed by what he described as (an emerging) coalition between the MDP-led Maldives United Opposition (MUO) and PPM-G. Gayoom has since clearly indicated, as such indications go, to apply the brakes, and make the other see political reason and electoral logic.

Having criticised the MDP’s 'direct action' plans to oust him while in power, Gayoom cannot also bring himself to accepting the same course now, against Yameen. If there is violence or disturbance on the streets, and consequent negativity on international tourist arrivals and spending, he too would have to share the blame. In his eighties, Gayoom at least can do without it.

If street protests were to decide the fate of the presidency in the country after Nasheed’s exit in 2012, it would lead not to a closure, but to a tested or retested precedent. In political terms, it could imply 'Advantage MDP' as against PPM-G. One, the MDP and Nasheed are past-masters in the game. Two, it would have meant that the PPM-G would have lost the political script and initiative to the MDP.

Nor could Maumoon Gayoom be able to convince his traditional followers, who are also 'political conservatives' in the Maldivian context, about tying up with Nasheed and the MDP. They may do so, if and when they see Yameen pushing him to the wall — and understand it as such. Thus the ball is now in Yameen’s court, and he has been handling Gayoom carefully, thus far — provoking, but not provoking enough.

In contrast to street based bid to have Yameen ousted, any 'constitutional initiative' for replacing Yameen could imply attempts at parliamentary impeachment. This in turn requires floor-crossing by PPM parliamentarians to Gayoom’s side, or Gayoom taking over the reins of the parliamentary party as is now with the organisational wing.

This in turn could mean that Nasheed and the MDP would not be giving Gayoom and his faction what they want to give, in an interim arrangement. It could be the other way round, instead. If nothing else, it would have to be an honest bargaining with equal partnership, even if it’s only for the interim.

< style="color: #163449;">Imponderables

Any long term solution for the return of political stability in a post-Yameen Maldives would have to rely on fresh presidential elections. Nasheed and the MDP have an advantage over the Gayoom faction of the PPM. Yet, there could be imponderables of the Gasim Ibrahim kind. In the first round of the 2013 presidential polls, the Jumhooree Party (JP) leader obtained 25 percent vote share, up from 15 percent five years earlier.

Both Gayoom and Gasim face the prospects of non-inclusion as candidates after last year’s constitutional amendment, fixing a 65-year upper-limit for the presidency and vice presidency. Whether or not the Constitution will be accommodated in the interim to facilitate their return is as contestable just now as the MDP’s freewheeling speculation of Yameen’s imminent exit. If the 65-year rule is changed, then the possibilities of Gasim, now in the Yameen camp, contesting the presidential polls cannot be entirely ruled out, either.

Independent of all this, there has been demands for and speculation about changing the nation’s presidential form of government into a parliamentary scheme, based on the Westminster model. Some opposed to Yameen also seem to be sharing the prospects of Gayoom becoming a titular Head of State, and Nasheed returning to power as prime minister. Independent of Yameen’s exit, this would also imply that Nasheed has to overcome the existing legal hurdles.

In turn, these include Nasheed’s present-day political asylum in the UK, his purportedly jumping 'medical leave' from Maldivian prison, and also conviction and 13-year sentencing in the 'Judge Abdulla case.' While all of it could be arranged in any situation without Yameen in power, a lot would also depend on the political composition of the People’s Majlis, or Parliament, under the circumstances.

< style="color: #163449;">Whither Yameen?

All such calculations calculus presupposes that Yameen is incapable of thinking ahead of his adversaries, or is not doing so. From almost the commencement of his presidency, he has outsmarted his political adversaries like Nasheed, and backers like Gayoom, at every turn. It has been more so after the December 2014 MDP call for him to quit. Aides have now gone on record that Yameen’s adversaries had 'plotted' to have him ousted five or six times already, and he had overcome the threats.

There is nothing on record to show that adversaries, divided as they are at present, have not had a head-start on him just now. It may yet happen, but not before Nasheed and Gayoom come together. In this, Nasheed will have to consider or reconsider carrying his MUO allies with him. Gayoom, in turn, would have to prove that he has the PPM organisation, and more so the parliamentary party, with him.

For now, there has not been any visible public reaction to the recent Al Jazeera TV expose on allegations of corruption directly linked to Yameen. It cannot be gauged either, if one were to go by the opposition charges of authoritarianism on Yameen’s part. It’s also possible that ordinary Maldivians do not rest much hope on any section of their political class on issues of corruption.

It also remains to be seen if and when the Yameen presidency would hit back at its political detractors more than already on issues of corruption and misuse of office otherwise for personal gains. Already, the Government has directed erstwhile MDP ministers and others under Nasheed presidency to reimburse the funds that they had allegedly misused while in office.

The Government has also taken up the case of 80 of Gayoom beneficiaries from his days as President, to pay up personal loans, or else. Gayoom himself has stoutly denied Al Jazeera charges that he had taken big money from Nasheed, to oust Yameen from power. If that were so, Gayoom would have nothing more to bargain. Nor would he be talking about ‘constitutional means’, independent of any line that Nasheed and the MDP-MUO may be taking in the matter.

< style="color: #163449;">Horsetrading

In sum, Yameen is safe in the presidency — however shaky it might look from outside — as long as Gayoom and Nasheed do not agree on the future political structure. This has separate components like the interim administration, review of the government system and a possible electoral alliance between the two. Each one of them sound simpler than they actually are.

For instance, if detractors come together and have Yameen impeached, would they want his Vice President Abdulla Jihad also to go the same way, or let him provide the much needed 'continuity with change' for the remaining part of Yameen’s five-year term, until November 2018. Other components are even more complex and complicated.

For V. P. Jihad to take on the president’s mantle, he should first be agreeable to it. Even as news stories started doing the rounds last month, about an imminent 'plot' to have Yameen removed, Jihad was the first to swear by the incumbent. Alternatively, by having him impeached, too, along with Yameen, or a little after Jihad had assumed the presidency, would mean that Parliament Speaker Nihan would take charge, and stay on for (only) 60 days, presiding over fresh polls to the nation’s highest office.

Predictably, Nasheed personally and the MDP as a party could be expected to prefer the second route. Yet, for legal conditions to be created for Nasheed to return home and for him to be 'summarily discharged' from the 'Abdulla case' after the Supreme Court had upheld his conviction and sentence, could be both constitutionally challenging and politically time consuming.

It remains to be seen if the MDP would have the confidence in another leader to take Nasheed’s place even in the interim. The 'Waheed experience' could be a put-off from the past. In comparison, Gayoom may not worry too much about the age-bar law, as there seems to be a family consensus on a political successor or heir. Or, so it seems now.

Any 'constitutional' route to have Yameen impeached too is not without a price. Horsetrading is the name of the game. Maldives, like most other third world democracies, has gone through it all, and more than once. Truth be recorded, at the height of President Nasheed’s endless fight with the opposition controlled Parliament (2008-12), cross-trading in horsetrading had ensured that the status quo continued, for all wrong reasons.

It’s another matter that in such a scenario, democracy, among others, should take a backseat. Afterward, there would be no going back from the entrenched system, scheme and personality-driven politics and political administration. This is what Maldives has learnt, and taught the rest, in this era of multi-party democracy. Any change, thus, should address this Maldivian ailment, not just replace one with another, and yet another.

An anti-defection law is the name of the cure, though only a starting dose. But none may just now have the stomach — other than Yameen. Yet, he too may not be able to muster the required numbers for a constitutional amendment, either. That’s where horsetrading could begin, quick and fast, if his detractors take their time, working on their own fanciful plans, and not providing for such other fancies of such others in the anti-Yameen pack.

It’s in this background, any easy or early impeachment or otherwise ouster of Yameen from power seems delayed, whether or not desirable and possible. In between, there are those from within his camp who would still consider the possibilities of presidential polls without Yameen and Nasheed, Gayoom and Gasim in the fray, but with the collective or differentiated support and attestation of one or many of them, starting especially with Nasheed and his MDP cadres.

It’s in this background the September meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is set to occur later this month. Gayoom having rejected Nasheed’s initiative at least for now, the CMAG may not want to upset the political stability in Maldives more than already, at least for now. It’s not unlikely that the hurried Nasheed initiatives of the past fortnight may have more to do with CMAG meeting and convincing member-nations on what after Yameen than what with Yameen.

For his part, Gayoom may also consider negotiating with Nasheed only post-CMAG, but after ensuring that Yameen may not be able to pry into his camp and organisational authority even more than already. One way could be for Yameen to climb down on his unilateral launch of presidential poll campaign for 2018 without the mandated party primaries a year or so ahead. Instead, Yameen may have to stand by the purported family promise for the PPM to field Gayoom’s elder son, Faaris, as their common presidential candidate in 2018. In a way, that’s where PPM’s internal problems had begun.

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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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