Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Apr 11, 2019
Maldives: MDP does a make-or-mar sweep of Majlis polls

In a historic first for Maldives after it became a multi-party democracy in 2008, President Ibrahim Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), led by a charismatic predecessor President Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, has swept 6 April’s parliamentary polls.   With the MDP’s 65 of total 87 seats and 75-percent vote-share, it is the first time that any political party has won an absolute majority in the three parliamentary polls since 2009. The MDP’s three allies from the last September presidential polls, including the estranged Jumhooree Party (JP) of Speaker Gasim Ibrahim, as also the Opposition PPM-PNC combine of former President Abdulla Yameen, came a near-cropper.

The greater voter-endorsement of the Solih-Nasheed twin-leadership, beating the former’s 58 percent in the presidential polls, has multiple messages for the party, nation and their international allies. The 80-percent voter turn-out is the highest for a parliamentary poll, with corresponding figures in 2009 and 2014 hovering around 78. However, they are all much lower than the 90-percent-plus turn-out for the three presidential polls, each of them months earlier.

Personally, Nasheed won his Machangholi Central parliamentary seat in capital Male, which has a 3,000-electorate and at 63 percent, recorded a much lower turnout than the national average. Returning to Parliament after 10 years, he is the first former President in four to do so. He is also set to become the Leader of the House when the new MPs are sworn in on 28 May.

Including Nasheed, 14 MDP nominees bagged the 15 Male city seats. The party also swept all 10 seats in the ‘population centres’ in the South – as in the past.

Among the losers, former President Yameen’s PPM-PNC combine obtained 9.2 percent votes with a total of eight seats against 46 contested. Speaker Gasim’s JP, which contested in 41 constituencies after a last-minute deal with the Yameen combine, won five. Eight of a total of 174 Independents won, polling a total of 8.5 percent votes.

Among the ‘minor parties’,  religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP), which contested six seats in a last-minute pact with alliance-leader MDP, lost the lone seat it holds in the outgoing Parliament. The fourth partner, former President Maumoon Gayoom’s MRM could not sign in 3,000 members for Election Commission (EC) recognition, but managed to win a single ‘Independents’ seat.

This apart, Gayoom’s president-aspirant son, Faaris Maumoon, lost in Male’s Machangohli North constituency. Estranged uncle Yameen is a voter in the constituency, but abstained. However, Gayoom’s other son, Ghassan, who sided with Yameen during the split in what is now no more the nation’s ‘first family’, won from Guraidhoo constituency in Thaa Atoll.

JP’s Gasim retained his Mammigili seat in Ali Dhaalu Atoll, polling 52 percent votes in a total of 2,724. He may be the only prominent non-MDP face in the new Parliament as Yameen presidency’s House Leader Ahmed Nihan Hussein Manik and PNC’s interim president Abdulla Abduh Raheem have both lost their Male seats to MDP candidates.

End of ‘conservatives’?

To the average Maldivian, the MDP is the ‘right-liberal’ party in the western mould, even though the party swears by the 2008 Constitution that has reiterated the exclusivity of Sunni-Islam in the nation’s politico-social affairs. It does not mean that all of MDP’s 75-percent vote-share, up from Nasheed’s 25 percent in the first-round presidential polls of 2008, are now ‘right-liberals’ as well. Nor does it mean that those opposed to the MDP this time, however small their numbers, are all constitute the traditional constituency of ‘religious conservatives’, who had rocked the Nasheed presidency halfway through, in 2012.

The average 10-percent turn-out difference between presidential and parliamentary polls over the past three rounds, and also the fluctuating fortunes of parties and candidates between the two, indicate otherwise. However, a full and undisturbed term for the current Parliament could mean that many of the branded ‘conservative leaders’ like Gayoom and Yameen may end up making way for unidentified others, old and new. The newer crop, if any in the horizon, may have time only till the nation-wide local council polls, for collecting their wits and putting their act(s) together..

Stability & continuity

A sweeping majority for the MDP means that the nation is assured of political stability and policy continuity for the next five years.  Their predecessors did not enjoy the comfort in 10 years. The Government now has the two-thirds majority required to amend the Constitution, if needed, but the Opposition, thankfully, cannot hope to threaten President Solih with impeachment.

High on the government’s legislative agenda is to empower the Presidential Commissions appointed to probe Yameen era wrong-doings. Seeking to curry electoral favours with the Yameen camp after the MDP decided to go it alone in parliamentary polls, Speaker Gasim has stalled the same thrice already.

However, the unasked query is if the MDP would switch over to a parliamentary form of government, now that the party has two-thirds majority and a massive popular support. Ahead of the parliamentary polls, Nasheed said that it would be for President Solih to decide.

If handled without consultations, the issue has the potential to divide the nation and the party, not necessarily in that order. Both during the Nasheed presidency and now during the few months of Solih’s incumbency, MDP parliamentarians, like their rivals, have been peeved at ‘outsiders’ taking ministerial responsibilities that they consider theirs – but with no electoral accountability.

On the other hand, veteran MDP parliamentarians like Abdulla Shahid (Foreign Affairs) and Maryia Didi (Defence) had quit their seats in the current Parliament to take up ministerial responsibilities. They all have years of politics left in them, and cannot be shunted out without being accommodated, if MPs alone could occupy those seats.  If it all were to lead to fresh parliamentary polls under a Westminster scheme, then some/many of the new-comers may not want such a change and challenge.

At the MDP’s impromptu victory rally in capital Male on Saturday night, President Solih reiterated that the four-party coalition would remain. In what could at best be interpreted as a clarification by the MDP, Nasheed has since told a TV interviewer that Gasim having openly aligned with the Yameen combine in the parliamentary polls, the JP would have to stay in the Opposition.

Though Gasim would thus lose the Speaker’s job for sure in the new Parliament, Nasheed however said that JP’s Cabinet members won’t be disturbed. As maybe recalled, Vice-President Faisal Naseem, Tourism Minister Ali Waheed (who is also party chairman) and Transport Minister Aishath Nahulla (Gasim’s wife), all JP members, had identified with the Solih leadership during campaign time.

The Solih-Nasheed leadership may face the first real pressure, if any, from party back-benchers and cadres, who for long have been asking for conversion to parliamentary scheme, and ministerial berths exclusively for elected MPs. They may resent the any possible move by the leadership to ‘encourage’ JP members of the Cabinet to cross over to the MDP, as Nasheed had tried with his Vice-President Waheed Hassan and failed.

If anything, MDP back-benchers, of whom there will be many more because of the higher numbers, may want all these and possibly the equally-important Home Ministry, now with AP boss Sheikh Imran, for party men. In turn, Imran too may come under internal pressure from his party if the Government is seen as going against Islamic tenets, beliefs and international politics, as ‘religious conservatives’ had charged the Nasheed presidency (2008-12) with.

Modi greets Solih

According to Maldivian media reports, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become the first world leader to call and congratulate President Solih for the MDP’s parliamentary poll-performance. Modi was the only world leader invited – and participated – in Solih’s Inauguration. The latter has since wished the Indian PM well in the upcoming parliamentary polls in the country.

Like the Indian PM, the media in the country has also been upbeat about ‘Nasheed’s MDP’ sweeping the parliamentary polls in Maldives, after winning the presidency in September. In a post-poll interview to Meera Srinivasan of The Hindu in Male, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid said that bilateral relations have ‘never been better’.

As if to prove the point, Shahid’s Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj broke poll-time protocol, so to say, last month, heading a high-level official team to Male to sign a series of infrastructure projects forming a part of PM Modi’s promised $ 1.4-b aid to Maldives. In turn, the Indian media and strategic community that too is celebrating the MDP’s twin poll-victories will be watching with interest, the new Maldivian Government policies, especially on the foreign and security policy fronts, in particular reference to China and the erstwhile Yameen Government’s indebtedness to Beijing.

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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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