Should Yameen’s Opposition reconsider their campaign strategy for the 2023 polls before it is too late?
Former President Nasheed had openly targeted the Solih dispensation on the graft front for over a year, with mixed results.The show of coalition unity may have unnerved the Opposition ranks, which had hoped to capitalise on the internal divisions within the ruling coalition. Former President Nasheed had openly targeted the Solih dispensation on the graft front for over a year, with mixed results. Having been caught with his hand in the till, Yameen may have divined that binding an anti-India line to Solih and hoping it to work in the presidential polls of 2023, may be the only campaign option available to him. The government has also disproved the Yameen camp’s criticism on the developmental front. Individual islands have requirement-specific social and civil infrastructure under work, many of them with Indian aid. There is also greater appreciation for President Solih’s handling of the unmanageable COVID-19 pandemi, with the government risking reputation and political stability by opening up the mainstay tourism industry as far back as 15 July 2020, when most other tourism economies were still recovering from the pandemic. Through all this, there is an all-round unacknowledged appreciation for India, for rushing COVID-19 testing-kits and vaccines while over-looking domestic needs up to a point. Maldives continues to receive post-pandemic aid from New Delhi while Indian tourists top the global chart, lending speedier vibrancy to the nation’s tourist economy. Second- and third-rung leaders in the Yameen combine are reportedly alive to the mood of the common man. Oftentimes, the latter fondly recalls India’s open-export and open-visa regimes for Maldives and Maldivians, who too have been in the grip of the consumerist economy that the tourism economy has bolstered over the years. Many have also benefited from affordable Indian medical care and higher education in the immediate vicinity. The people will also need to be convinced about any malicious effects of the presence of Indian flying machines, pilots, and technical personnel, who have only engaged in humanitarian emergency operations responding to medical and natural disaster emergencies. They also recount New Delhi rushing in troops that helped neutralise the mercenary-driven coup against President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (‘Operation Cactus’, 1988).
Starting with the Yameen leadership of the Opposition combine, is incidentally unwilling to accept that television news channels and the ubiquitous social media over the past decade especially have changed it all in recent decades.The present campaign is a take-off on the Yameen-designed ‘December 23 Movement’ protest in 2011–12 that led to the exit of President Nasheed on the one hand, and the scrapping of the projects of the Indian infra major GMR Group on the other. The protest was premised on ‘Islamic nationalism’ that worked in an era before social media. The premise stood on twin legs. One was religion that swept the nation over 800 years ago. The other was ‘national pride’ imbibed first from the reclaiming of the Maldives from 13 years of Portuguese occupation in the 16th century and later from ensuring that the nation remained only a British protectorate while larger neighbours, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and India, were colonised for centuries. Opinions differ on whether Yameen is adopting a time-tested strategy or if the current campaign only exposed the lack of originality this time. The electoral effect of the same may also be far to seek, given the Yameen camp’s inability to connect with the masses as in the past thus far. Unlike on the previous occasion, the incumbent President is not dependent on the Yameen MPs for his parliamentary majority, indicating possibilities of political instability. For this reason, Yameen may not be able to maintain his campaign’s momentum this time unlike in the past. Three, the dominant presence of social media this time, can cut both ways.
Independent of differing views from within, the Nasheed-led MDP too does not seem to have the stomach to face the constitutionally-mandated national referendum, as an intervening adverse result would impact the presidential polls later.The Supreme Court verdict ensured that the PPM-PNC camp had a ‘winnable’ presidential candidate, who is also the unquestioned party boss. Any future conviction and consequent electoral disqualification of Yameen in the two pending corruption cases—one of them opening in the first week of the New Year—could reopen hidden presidential ambitions of a multitude of second-line leaders, throwing the party into unmatched disarray. It is unclear if Yameen’s oft-repeated statement that he had not taken a call on contesting the presidential poll is premised on anticipation and anxieties over the outcome of the pending cases.
Given the anticipated extra time, it may take Yameen extra effort to convince his party of a candidate primarily of his choice.There is another angle, too. The high 42 percent that voted for Yameen in the 2018 presidential polls that he lost, was for the nation’s ‘development man’, whatever may be his democratic inadequacies. To them all, Yameen is wasting his time on extraneous factors that also have the tendency of externalising what essentially is internal politics, whose consequences they all had felt he alienated, first during his anti-India campaign in 2011-13, and later as President (2013-18). Yameen’s loyalist voters from 2018 as also the high percentage of ‘swing voters’ from all three multi-party presidential polls in the past, expect only a post-pandemic growth plan from ‘economist-politician’ Yameen, against what they see as Solih’s creditable holding operations. In this, they acknowledge multi-layered Indian contributions, as only the closest neighbour and long-standing partner can do, but Yameen’s current posturing is at odds with their understanding of the nation’s economy and donors.
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N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.Read More +