Expert Speak Raisina Debates
Published on Nov 03, 2016
PPM chief, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has formally withdrawn support to half-brother and incumbent, Abdulla Yameen to spice up matters in Maldives
Realignment of forces in Maldives: All set for a battle royale In a much-anticipated move, former President and ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) chief, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has formally withdrawn support to half-brother and incumbent, Abdulla Yameen. Simultaneously, Gayoom has also won over Jumhooree Party (JP) founder, Gasim Ibrahim, another sulking ally of Yameen, over a two-hour discussion in the latter’s office. This realignment of political forces could mean that the pro and anti-Yameen political forces may join the much-awaited battle royale, first for controlling Parliament, then for the presidency. Already, the Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been wooing the Gayoom faction of the PPM with little success. The party has readily acknowledged the seven MPs of the Gayoom faction forming a separate group in Parliament, or the People’s Majlis. The original figure was eight, but one of them crossed backed to the Yameen camp with the same speed that he had come out. Post-PPM split, the parliamentary strength makes for interesting reading. The PPM (Yameen) officially has 40 MPs and the Gayoom faction seven, together up from the 2014 poll-tally of 33. Gasim’s JP had 15 members at commencement of this Parliament, now down to 7, all of them having crossed over to the PPM at Yameen’s instance. The Maldives Democratic Alliance (MDA), a steadfast ally of Yameen until now, has retained the six MPs that it had won in 2014. With the Gayoom-Gasim decision now, accounting for 14 MPs, the Yameen support-base is down to 46 from a total of 60 in an 85-member House. The Opposition MDP had won 26 seats but could retain only 21. Through all these cross-overs, the total number of Independents has come down from five to one. Mohammed Mahloof, a one-time Yameen loyalist, is in prison after a corruption-conviction and has been voting with the Opposition since. A former MDP Chairperson, ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, who is also the Deputy Speaker, was sacked by the party and votes against the leadership’s diktat. There is a lone, woman member of the religion-centric Adhaalath Party. Under status quo conditions, the anti-Yameen camp now has 37 MPs in all. The camp also seems to believe that when the chips are down, Gayoom can attract more party MPs to his side. Under such circumstances, the Yameen camp too could indulge in a last-ditch effort to recruit more MPs to its side. Apart from obvious targets, the monolith MDP since the party’s December 2014 battle-cry against Yameen too could end up feeling the pressure, if not the pinch.

< style="color: #163449;">Trial balloon

With the Gayoom-Gasim consolidation and the MDP backing taken for granted, there are already reports of the anti-Yameen camp considering a no-confidence motion against Majlis Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohammed, a Yameen-backer from the beginning. It could be a trial balloon of sorts before the combined Opposition moves onto propose impeaching Yameen. A no-confidence motion against the Speaker requires only a simple majority, or 43 MPs, with 15 signatories moving the motion in the first place. Any impeachment attempt against the President/Vice-President requires two-thirds majority, with 21 endorsements for Parliament to consider the same. The last time the lonely MDP Opposition targeted the Speaker, in March 2016, they had to back out, as a floor-test would have proved to be another tactical failure for the party. For the anti-Yameen camp, a no-trust vote against the Speaker would mean early consolidation of their ranks, at least inside Parliament. They could then strategise for splitting the Treasury Benches. While the Yameen-led PPM faction is the natural first target, there could be a package offer to the MDA, too, if not immediately. On the reverse, the Yameen leadership would also try out every trick in reverse horse-trading, for which ‘democratised’ Maldives is more famous for than earlier.

< style="color: #163449;">The ‘other outsider’

For all the consolidation that the otherwise divided Opposition may hope and even strategise for, their unity would begin and end with try and unseat Yameen, so to say. There may not even be adequate clarity, now or even later, about possible unity on letting Vice-President Abdulla Jihad to run out the remaining two years of Yameen’s five-year term, if they at all manage to impeach the latter. However, early on in the current phase of intra-PPM politics, Jihad swore by Yameen, as if to send out a message to the latter’s rivals than to the President himself. Jihad was a senior financial aide of Gayoom when he was President. Later on, he became Gasim-JP’s nominee for Finance Minister when Vice-President Mohammed Waheed replaced Nasheed in February 2012, and continued in the same position under President Yameen, since 2013. If the decision is for the anti-Yameen camp to think afresh for the nation, then they might also move for Jihad’s impeachment, if it came to that. Removing Speaker Maseeh and impeaching Yameen and Abdulla may be the easiest of all problems before the anti-Yameen camp – not that any or all of them are going to be as easy as being put out on paper. What after Yameen?” is the question that some sections of the anti-Yameen camp may be keen to decide upon in advance while others would be shy to take it up, at least to everyone’s satisfaction. The intervening option of a two-round poll for the presidency is a temptation that feeds the hopes of every aspirant in the fray now, and outside, hoping for the self to be one of the two in the second run-off round. Otherwise, the law would have to be amended Nasheed, Gayoom and Gasim – and a host of others in the Opposition – to contest the presidential or vice-presidential elections, whenever held. There has to be clarity and unanimity among the current crop of anti-Yameen camp on this score, too. For now, the Gayoom PPM has condemned the ‘terrorism conviction’ against MDP’s Nasheed. Gayoom follower Umar Naseer, who had backed Nasheed’s conviction and 13-year jail-term under anti-terror laws as Yameen’s Home Minister until weeks ago, has asserted that Nasheed could not become President. Gayoom was present when Naseer said it. A presidential aspirant since the first democratic polls of 2008 and later for the PPM ticket in 2013, could make a deadly combination, if especially JP’s Gasim backs this ‘other ‘outsider to the ‘Male royalty’ – where Gayoom, Yameen and Nasheed, all belong. As they are all shy of acknowledging, Gasim has an ‘all-transferable vote-share’ for the second-round, from his first-round tally of 24 percent in 2013, up from 16 percent in 2008.

< style="color: #163449;">Strong, silent message

For now, Gayoom has not talked about floating another political party after the Supreme Court had upheld the lower courts’ divesting him of the PPM leadership and handing it over to Yameen, instead. It could mean that his camp might be hoping to re-take the PPM in good time and avoid going through the motions of floating a new party, registering new members, whose identities needed to be verified before the Election Commission (EC) could allot them a symbol. The courts’ orders might be among the immediate provocations for Gayoom to ‘rebel’ against Yameen, knowing full well that a majority of the parliamentary group, and even in the PPM general council, would not be with him, instantaneously. Yet, if Gayoom or any other leader/party in the country established a substantial hold over Parliament, jointly or separately, it (alone) could (also) sent out a strong but silent message to ‘Independent Institutions’ under the 2008 Constitution, of which the courts and the EC are a part. After deciding on the PPM leadership question without a court-ordered trial of strength, the Supreme Court has barred Gayoom’s lawyer, Husnu Suood, a former Attorney-General under MDP’s President Nasheed, and parliamentarian Ali Hussein, on suo motu contempt charges, pending investigations. This is not the first such occurrence of the kind in recent months. Yet, in a slightly different case, the lawyer fraternity rose as one man when the Nasheed Government ‘arrested’ then Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohammed without a court order. The rest, as they say, is history. Come 17 November, and Yameen would complete three years as President. If straight options were to run out for him, in pure political terms, the current crisis could force him to consider ordering snap polls without giving the Opposition to give a schematic approach to their current attempts at unity, though not unification. They need to make their cadres accept any such move and work together at the grassroots.  It’s easier said than done. The anti-Yameen camp would also have to consider amending the laws and Constitution enabling Nasheed, Gayoom and Gasim to contest the presidency, if at all the latter two so desire. As an alternative, the three would have to decide to stay away in the interim, and work out modalities for a smooth transition should Yameen exit. It may be relatively easy for Gasim, and to a lesser extent for Gayoom, too, to promote or sideline other aspirants from within their respective parties, but that’s not going to be easy for Nasheed and the MDP, given also the leader’s susceptibilities and suspicions. In the interim, it should not surprise anyone if Yameen decided to deny the Opposition a chance of a floor-test, by having Speaker Maseeh resign voluntarily and electing a relatively acceptable face, in his place. That’s again a chance that the Opposition would not like to miss as it’s a decisive first step in more ways than one. But it could also be a gamble that they might end up losing. Likewise, Budget-2017, to be presented to Parliament in November and voted by December, is another floor-test, based on a simple majority, on which both sides would be working harder.
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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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