Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Aug 22, 2022
Nasheed ‘puts on hold’ much-hyped proposal even as Yameen moves away from ‘India Out’ campaign.
Maldives: Solih gets a boost for 2023 presidential bid

The much-expected National Congress of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ended without the anticipated ‘action’, reaffirming its unassailable faith in President Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Solih. With the result, the party primary, which was also his preferred route for obtaining nomination for his re-election bid next year, looks like a formality, at least for now. It’s more so after friend-turned-adversary, Parliament Speaker and party president Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, threw the towel away in the concluding session of congress, by ‘putting on hold’ his much-hyped proposal for a change-over to the parliamentary scheme. It now remains to be seen if Nasheed would contest or field a proxy in the presidential primary, which should be held “very soon, after the congress’’, for which Solih had declared his candidacy some weeks earlier.

In the concluding session of the three-day party congress that ended on Sunday, 21 August 2022, Nasheed, who had not heeded Solih’s media appeal for withdrawing his governance-change proposal, walked to the podium when it was his turn to pilot the debate ahead of the vote, only to declare that he was putting the ‘proposal on hold’, for further discussions with the President and the rest. A member from Team Nasheed had earlier claimed that the party boss had not withdrawn the resolution and that a vote would take place—but it did not happen.

It’s more so after friend-turned-adversary, Parliament Speaker and party president Mohammed ‘Anni’ Nasheed, threw the towel away in the concluding session of congress, by ‘putting on hold’ his much-hyped proposal for a change-over to the parliamentary scheme.

All this, after Nasheed had indicated that he “will leave the MDP if the referendum did not happen’’. In the process, he obliquely contested Election Commissions President Fuad Thowfeek’s statement that a referendum would cost MVR 100 million (in these times of post-COVID economic crisis), and said, “You cannot deny the referendum to the people”, irrespective of the reason. Earlier, he had also claimed that the ‘transitional phase’ of the referendum would commence as early as February next year and said that the debate did not involve the President, and Solih should thus stay away.

It is too early to conclude that the parliamentary scheme would not be raked up in another forum, another time, but its fate within the MDP seems to have been sealed for the present. Surprisingly, arch-rival and predecessor President Abdulla Yameen gave his qualified backing for Nasheed’s proposal as a concept, but said that the Maldivian people ‘will not favour it in a referendum’.

Most MDP leaders, including Party Chairman and Economic Affairs Minister Fayyaz Ismail, and also alliance partners like Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim and Home Minister Sheikh Imran rejected Nasheed’s proposal outright. Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid, whom Nasheed had projected as a “good presidential candidate’’ not very long ago as if to drive a wedge in the Solih camp, and who is completing his one-year elected stint as UNGA President, too, shared the view. So did Opposition MDA’s Ahmed Shiyam and MNP’s Col Mohamed Nazim (retd).

Moving forward

In his closing remarks at the party meet, Solih remarked how the congress had “started off with tensions but was concluding in an exemplary way’’. In his inaugural day observations, the President said that “there were differences but the party would move forward,’’ without indicating if it would be unitedly or not. The credit for a relatively decisive congress, though not always smooth, should go to Solih, who combined firmness with tact, with his Sphynx-like unperturbed ways not letting his supporters go overboard on any occasion, in any which way.

In a way, this composure of his has helped Solih win over the party, which was all but Nasheed’s, as the latter was possibly not used to handling an adversary who would not react, thus, not provoking the other but rendering the other irrelevant.  In the process, an ever-restless Nasheed, egged on by a select group of loyalists, made some major miscalculations at every step and every turn through the four years of the Solih presidency, so much so that the ‘sympathy wave’ that had restored some of his lost charms, following his injury in a bomb-blast last year, seemed to have evaporated without a trace. At the party congress, for instance, he questioned the legitimacy of the election of some lower-level representatives, inviting a howl of protests from the floor, which in turn forced him to discontinue one of his speeches halfway through.

With the focus on intra-party affairs, no mention was also made about ‘Islamic radicalisation’, ISIS presence, and modules, which were amongst the pet themes of the Nasheed camp, for attacking the government, whether of the MDP’s as now, or of its adversaries, in the past.

Suffice to point out that no serious mention seemed to have been made about what the Nasheed camp had alleged as the slow pace of the progress made in the blast-probe, at the party congress. Nor were any of Nasheed’s past allegations of corruption against Solih’s ministers flagged, as any mention of the ‘homosexual scam’ case in which Nasheed’s lawyer-brother Nazim Sattar was among those arrested, would have embarrassed many. With the focus on intra-party affairs, no mention was also made about ‘Islamic radicalisation’, ISIS presence, and modules, which were amongst the pet themes of the Nasheed camp, for attacking the government, whether of the MDP’s as now, or of its adversaries, in the past.

Moreover, from the other side, no mention was made of the pre-congress bid to remove  Nasheed as Speaker after he had claimed to possess photographic evidence of President Solih committing adultery. Incidentally, Nasheed, who purportedly claimed to have photographic evidence stored in his mobile phone—which was snatched away while in a London restaurant recently—conceded to Malé newsmen that he had not preferred to file an official police complaint while in the United Kingdom. Incidentally, the Maldivian police too have not proceeded with the probe into the criminal case filed against Nasheed, for his adultery charge against Solih.

Coalition conundrum

Closer to the congress, Nasheed, in particular, had argued vociferously that the MDP would lose 42 percent of party support if it did not switch over to the parliamentary scheme, and that to think that the ‘coalition would continue was a mirage’. That was not reflected in the mood of the congress, where he indicated that he would not be in the party if a referendum was not held. That was another of his problems—not distinguishing between party, parliamentary, governmental and constitutional platforms, while propagating his ideas, without even a trial run.

As if responding to childhood friend and political mentor, Solih, in his remarks at the congress, reasserted that the coalition “will remain, and will also get enough votes’’. However, his loaded statement that the “MDP was born when brutality crossed the limit’’ unless clarified, has the potential to estrange one of the MDP’s three allies. The Maumoon Reform Movement’s (MRM) founder and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was in power from 1978-2008), when the alleged ‘brutality’ occurred.

As President, Nasheed had torpedoed the coalition that helped him to win the 2008 polls, in the second round, this led to a situation in which his government was in a minority in parliament throughout his term. It was an avoidable impediment that contributed to the ‘GMR issue’ kind of controversies that rocked his government within and the nation’s India relations, otherwise.

Closer to the congress, Nasheed, in particular, had argued vociferously that the MDP would lose 42 percent of party support if it did not switch over to the parliamentary scheme, and that to think that the ‘coalition would continue was a mirage’.

Likewise, even as the coalition was shaping up for the 2018 Presidential polls that Solih won as the common candidate, Nasheed expressed his opposition to the idea and thwarted its continuance for the parliamentary poll months later. The MDP won 65 of the 87 parliamentary seats—many of them with narrow margins—thus reaffirming Nasheed’s faith in the cadres and the voters alike. However, as other party veterans point out, the MDP on its own has never recorded a 50-per cent plus vote-share required to win a direct election to the presidency.

Yameen’s missing T-shirts

Significantly, Opposition presidential nominee Yameen seems to have moved away from his ‘India Out’ / ‘India Military Out’ campaign, his pet political theme of the past two years. Participants at the PPM-PNC rally on 19 August 2022 (the opening day of the MDP congress), where the coalition formally handed over their presidential ticket to Yameen, wore the party’s traditional pink tie, as against the red ‘India Out’ T-shirts from the past months. Yameen’s acceptance speech too was bereft of any direct reference to India, though he did say that “it was vital to void all agreements that threatened the sovereignty of the nation’’, without elaborating.

Instead, Yameen, as should have been the case all along, chose to target the Solih government for ‘non-performance’, and also made allegations of corruption and nepotism. He claimed that the current government had “emptied out the State reserves left behind by his administration in this season of love’’, targeted the youth, but said that creating new jobs in the run-up to elections is tantamount to corruption. Despite this, the incumbent government had created only 4,000 jobs since coming to power in 2018. Youth Affairs Minister Maloof lost no time in contesting the claims, saying that the government had created 17,000-plus jobs.

A section of the pro-Yameen media, quoting from multiple responses of the Information Commissioner, has been releasing a near-daily quota on ‘political appointments’ involving the kin of senior ministers and party veterans, especially in the nation’s embassies overseas, terming them as nepotism and corruption. More recently, they have mentioned Solih kins’ alleged links to a housing project, purporting to make it out to be a scam of some kind.  What impact would it have on the cadre/voter psyche, if the Opposition adds them all as one of its major campaign points, remains to be seen?

It is too early to conclude that the parliamentary scheme would not be raked up in another forum, another time, but its fate within the MDP seems to have been sealed for the present.

A senior PPM leader, referring to the pending court cases, said that if Yameen had ‘stolen money’ from the government in the ‘MMPRC scam’, as alleged, the money would have been found out by now. The fact is that two criminal cases are still pending in the matter and the trial court verdict in one is scheduled for the next month, after which a substantive hearing could commence on the other. The Supreme Court had cleared Yameen on technical grounds in the first of the three money-laundering cases charged against him, and he would require an acquittal in the new cases, to be able to contest the presidential poll next year.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.