Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Jul 07, 2016
Maldives: Power struggle intensifies in ruling coalition

In a belated realisation against death-penalty, all-important Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has quit the Government of President Abdulla Yameen. Almost simultaneously, the Yameen leadership has ‘sacked’ Dunya’s brother Faaris Maumoon from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), for defying a party-whip to vote for the tourism amendment bill.

Dunya is the third of the fourth Gayoom children to ‘revolt’ against Yameen, after half-sister Yumna, who made a quite exit as a junior minister a couple of months ago. Faaris is younger to the two, followed by brother Ghassim. His decision on staying on in the Yameen ministry will be watched – more for the symbolism than for any additional vote or cadre-strength that he may contribute to either camp.

With all this, the simmering feud within the PPM’s ‘First Family’, both headed by Yameen’s half-brother and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is out in the open. After the ‘Maumoons revolt’, if it could be termed so, Yameen’s hands are not just full. They are over-flowing. Already, the Maldives United Opposition (MUO), led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of former President Mohammed Nasheed, has demanded his freedom and for other ‘political prisoners’ in the country.

The West is arguing their case in international fora, including the UN, UNHRC and the Commonwealth. The absence of Dunya Maumoon as Foreign Minister would be felt sooner than later. She had argued Maldives’ case effectively in all such fora – whether or not the international community was keen on listening to her, owing to bilateral and multilateral political pre-determinants.

< style="color: #163449;">Waiting to happen

The family feud was waiting to happen, almost since the day Yameen became President in November 2013. He had gone against Gayoom’s reported commitment to Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim for Speaker’s post after the latter had committed and actually transferred his 25-percent first-round votes to Yameen in the decisive second-round. Last year, the Yameen camp defeated Gayoom’s candidate for Prosecutor-General in a parliamentary vote.

The current crisis in the PPM was caused by Gayoom’s public opposition to a tourism amendment bill, conferring exclusive powers for leasing islands and lagoons for private sector (tourism) development. The norm was in place since his days as President since the late Seventies, but Gayoom asked party MPs to vote it out. The Yameen camp won the vote, 45-19 in the 85-member House.

Faaris Maumoon and two other PPM parliamentarians heeded Gayoom’s advice. They have since been ‘sacked’ from the party, despite Gayoom declaring that others did not have powers to initiate disciplinary action or any decision of the kind without his say-so and approval.  The Yameen camp has since taken Gayoom to the civil courts against ‘hijacking’ the party.

For its part, the Government’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) too has suddenly summoned Maumoon for investigations into ‘personal spending’ from the State funds when he was President. The last time he was investigated, the Nasheed Government summoned Gayoom to a police station, on similar counts.

A ‘retired’ ex-President then hit back the political trail, ending his post-poll vow against doing so, and Nasheed ended up losing his job. Whether Gayoom could repeat the feat remains to be seen. If so, who would be the ultimate political beneficiary, is also the question. The MUO could see the Gayoom’s loss of faith in Yameen – whether forced or otherwise – as yet another sign of the Yameen ship ‘sinking’.

< style="color: #163449;">Elections-2018

To the MUO and the international community, Maumoons’ decision is advantage Nasheed, in Elections-2018 for the presidency, but why and how would remain to be explained and/or worked out. The complexities of Nashed’s 13-year prison-term, confirmed already by the Supreme Court, his defying the court/government order on ‘medical leave’ in the UK and not returning home, his subsequent ‘political asylum’ in the UK and the like are questions without answers, just now.

Yet, within the larger ‘Gayoom family’, the tiff is over Yameen having to make way for Faaris in Elections-2018. Indications were that the family rallied around Yameen in 2013 only with such an unwritten understanding, first to keep challengers in the primaries out, and later on defeat Nasheed in the presidential polls. Yameen’s pre-emptive 2014 decision to run for the presidency in 2018 and launching his campaign with First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim as convenor was without the approval of either Maumoon or the party.

Maumoon has since used the post-tourism bill imbroglio to declare that the party congress in November 2017 alone would initiate the process for choosing the presidential nominee. Under the PPM constitution, either an incumbent could be re-nominated unanimously or had to go through the primaries.  In between, Umar Naseer, once a Maumoon prodigy and who had Yameen’s Home Minister only recently, has declared himself as a candidate in the party primaries, if conducted – or as an independent in the presidential polls, whenever held.

< style="color: #163449;">Stability at stake

It’s surprising that despite profession of religiosity, every section and segment of Maldivian polity has used the concluding days of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan to play high-intensity, low-level politics. The Supreme Court chose the period to confirm Nasheed’s prison-term, Yameen chose the time to move the controversial bill over which Maumoon’s reservations were known, the latter too could not wait until the end of Ramadan, to launch his ‘revolt’ against Yameen and vice versa.

In between, the MUO got formed in distant London during the period. They also announced their decision to take the anti-Yameen campaign back home to Maldives through a non-cooperation movement from 15 July. However, in the light of the Maumoons’ ‘revolt’, the MUO has called for supporters to gather for Ramadan day prayers at the Islamic Centre, not far away from the President’s office in Male – and send out greetings to Yameen. The police has since banned political rallies of any kind near religious places.

If the political developments of the past year-plus had made governance unsteady, the ‘Maumoon revolt’ from within has raised questions about the stability of the Yameen Government as never before since inception in November 2013. Just now, there is no denying the continued parliamentary majority for the Government. Nasheed had spent his shortened three-and-half year presidency (when he quit) without parliamentary majority, but things could change if Yameen adversaries could come together and muster two-thirds majority for his impeachment.

There are sticking points and issues. For instance, Dunya cited the public Opposition to the re-introduction of death sentence after 1953 for quitting the Government. But Yameen has responded by declaring the Government’s determination in executing 22-year-old Humam within 30 days, for the midnight killing of scholar-parliamentarian Afrasheem Ali in 2012, even without the police probing the conspiracy angle in full. Both are unconvincing as any other pair of politicos in the country.

On la affaire Nasheed, Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Patricia Scotland, has named Justice Wily Mutunga as special envoy ahead of the September meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG). Even with Dunya at the helm in Foreign Ministry, the Government did not react even though the SG had said that Mutunga’s appointment was made at the suggestion of Maldives.

In the normal circumstances, the Yameen leadership might have wanted all HR issues to go to UN Security Council (UNSC), where alone it could count on a China-veto. Yet, the CMAG process is also not going to be easy for his adversaries, as unanimity in decision-making is not a done-thing just now. The CMAG also continues to have the Maldivian threat to quit the Commonwealth hanging at the centre – though no one has repeated it since the group took charge of ‘Maldivian affairs’.

< style="color: #163449;">Difficult for India

All of it has made things that much difficult for friends of Maldives, like India, which had backed the Government at the earlier meeting of the CMAG. China apart, India is also faced with issues of IS-terrorists originating in Maldives, attributed by adversaries to Yameen’s accommodation but not always so. If anything, any political instability in Maldives could continue to push many more frustrated youth from the pro-democracy movement too into the waiting hands of religious fundamentalists – and threaten Maldivian and neighbourhood security, too.

Whatever be the truth or otherwise of the criticism against Yameen on the fundamentalist/IS front, there is now no democratic alternative to Yameen’s leadership barring impeachment, or fresh elections, otherwise due in 2018. No one is anyway talking any more convincingly about a coup of whatever kind than they had done in the past – first, when Gayoom lost the 2008 polls, or later when Nasheed quit in 2012. In the present case, if any, not only Yameen but also his third Vice-President in one year, Abulla Jihad, who is yet to be confirmed by Parliament, too would have to quit or be impeached, for the Speaker to assume powers for 60 days and conduct fresh presidential polls. These are all also in the realm of theoretical possibilities – and not real, at least as yet.

The question would even then remain if Nasheed could contest the elections without the SC overturning its confirmation in the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’. The alternative would be for a parliament that had impeached Yameen – if at all it came to that – would have to pass an ‘impunity’ law of some kind in Nasheed’s favour. There are still only in the realm of possibilities, with no knowing how things on the ground could work out.

< style="color: #163449;">Political realignment

In between, both the Yameen camp and the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) component in the MUO are wooing JP’s Gasim Ibrahim. Under an MDP-backed Yameen’s law, Gasim has been disqualified from contesting the 2018 polls owing to over-age. Gayoom is another victim. For now, Gayoom’s belated effort to delay a PPM showdown until the November 2017 party congress has failed. The two party factions have to settle their scores or settle for a compromise, earlier than they might have bargained for.

Whether any or all of it would lead to realignment of political forces ahead of the presidential polls, whenever held, too remains to be seen. The MUO too has send out confusing signals by naming Yameen-impeached Vice-President Ahmed Jameel Mohamad as their leader with Nasheed as patron. In the midst of the PPM imbroglio, the MDP-MUO also said that they were ready to hold talks with the Government, if/but only to ensure that individual parties have the right to nominate their own presidential candidates.

At least for now, no one is talking about re-writing the 2008 Constitution, for replacing the presidential form of government with a Westminster form of parliamentary democracy. As long as the present constitutional scheme and electoral form remains, the chances are that the nation would repeat the 2008 format and formula – of various aspirants contesting the first round of presidential polls, with the runners-up negotiating and re-negotiating with the two front-runners, to strike a ‘fair deal’ for the self – but not necessary for the nation and long-term political stability.

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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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