Originally Published 2013-09-21 04:59:26 Published on Sep 21, 2013
With only a week left for the scheduled second-round polling in the presidential elections on Saturday, 28 September, it may be time the stake-holders in Maldives arrived at an interim consensus, keeping the healthy and constructive future of the infant democracy at heart.
Maldives polls: Time for consensus by political parties
"With only a week left for the scheduled second-round polling in the presidential elections on Saturday, 28 September, it may be time the stake-holders in Maldives arrived at an interim consensus, keeping the healthy and constructive future of the infant democracy at heart. It could mean that they move on with the second-round of polls, without prejudice to the pending legal process before the nation's Supreme Court.

The scheduled date for the second-round polling is also the last day under the three-week maximum period that the Constitution has mandated for the purpose, at the conclusion of the first round. Such a conclusion by the 'Founding Fathers' of the 2008 Constitution implied that they did not foresee the kind of impasse being faced now - and hence did not provide for the same.

That should include the collapse of communication-links between the spread-out islands and the national Capital of Male, owing to natural causes like heavy rains and winds, for passing on election-related information, including the vote-count. The Indian Ocean archipelago is famous for unpredictable weather. Yet, the 'Founding Fathers', most of whom are now in the electoral fray and political process, did not provide for a flexible, adjustable time-frame between the two rounds of polling, when warranted.

It owes to pragmatic wisdom. Should any cause be cited to delay the second-round polling, or even the first, then other justifications could be used to delay or annul the electoral process, ad infinitum. That was not certainly the spirit behind the democratic process that the 2008 Constitution ushered in. Instead, it sought to provide a dynamic process of multi-party democracy, acknowledging the inherent limitations and in-built constraints of the scheme and systems therein.

No radical change

The Supreme Court is now seized of the Jumhooree Party's election petition, challenging the first-round poll processes and results, and seeking its annulment. With the hearings in the case half-way through, the seven-Judge Full Bench of the Apex Court has now scheduled further hearing without assigning a date. After the two-day Islamic week-end for Government offices, the court will commence its new week on Sunday, 22 September. That would leave less than a week of the three-week period available for the contending candidates to campaign for the second round.

In more ways than one, the ends of justice would have been met if the second-round polling were allowed/ordered to be conducted on schedule, without denying the petitioners a legitimate chance to agitate their present case, post-poll. It could also provide an opportunity for the top-two from the first-round contesting the second-round, to submit add-on petitions or fresh pleas about the conduct of the second round and its results, and/or the overall conduct of the presidential polls, per se.

There would not be any radical change to the ground situation in legal and judicial terms, should the Apex Court entertain the JP's petition now or after the conclusion of the second-round polling. Nor could the political situation change much, given the poll-percentages from the first-round. If however the present-day petitioners could prove their pending case to the satisfaction of the higher judiciary on a later date, it would change the ground situation, wholesale - along with the ground perception. Any re-poll, ordered by the courts, then could have acquired new meaning and relevance.

Judiciary vs Legislature?

In the midst of all this, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has caused the emergent summoning of Parliament session on Sunday, 22 September. Party's nominee and former President Mohammed Nasheed is the front-runner in the first-round, way ahead of his immediate runner-up, Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) by 20 percentage points. Naturally, the party is hurt and confused over the shape of things to come on the electoral front.

At this crucial hour, the MDP will do well by itself and the nation (for which it will be respected) if it resisted the continuing temptation of using Parliament and parliamentary committees to advance political arguments and tactics. With 34 members in the 77-seat People's Majlis, the MDP has been the single largest party for months now. Its hands have been strengthened by the cross-over of the eight of 10-member Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP), giving the combine an unassailable minimum support of 42 members at present.

The past year however has shown the MDP that tactics using the Legislature to check-mate the moves of either the Judiciary or the Executive, or both, have not produced actionable directives to the other two arms of the Government in a democracy. Nor is democracy aware of any scheme by which the Legislature can enforce its decisions over the Executive or Judiciary, without setting off a rebellion.

Clearly, the MDP leadership does not seem to have anything of the kind in its mind. The party also showed on 8 February 2012, that it was incapable of, if not unwilling to controlling unruly elements if they took to the streets in its name, that too to enforce the law of the land. Other trouble-makers too may be lurking not far behind, to capitalise on any such MDP initiative for their own ends, and passing on the blame to the party.

All-round support

The international community has since come out openly in favour of the scheduled conduct of the second-round polling. Noticeably, none of the global stake-holders, including the UN, the Commonwealth, the American super-power or the Indian neighbour, has commented on the pending court case. Clearly, they have no intention to interfere with the domestic legal and judicial processes in Maldives. That position could and would hold even after the second-round.

As the Speaker of the Special Majlis that passed the 2008 Constitution, under his great care and effort, JP leader and presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim could revive the past spirit of consensus and give-and-take, at this critical hour in the country's democratic infancy and future. He could yield legal ground for the conduct of the second-round polling as scheduled, by offering to wait until after the current poll process is concluded as a whole.

Gasim and the JP need not waive their right to revive the pending court case, if he chose to contest the elections, wholesale. Maybe, he will require guarantees in this regard. The court can offer him that. The MDP and the PPM too could commit themselves to the same, both inside the court and outside. MDP's Nasheed having committed himself to standing criminal trial in the 'Judge Abdulla abduction case' after the presidential polls were behind him, his party should be able to appreciate such a course.

The MDP as the 'majority party', both within Parliament and outside, has greater responsibility. As the party responsible for ushering in multi-party democracy, the MDP should hold itself 'accountable' more than others for any diversion of the course or the vitiation of the atmosphere. That again will set a healthy precedent for all times to come. At the end of the day, democracy is more about traditions and less about legislation.

The MDP should resist the temptation of pitting the Legislature against the Judiciary just now, aware of the experienced limitations of the course in sub-serving the party's agenda and/or goal. Having caused the summoning of Parliament, it could instead get the Legislature appeal to the other arms of the Government, and 'Independent Institutions' like the Election Commission (EC), complete the constitutional process that was set in motion with unanimous consent.

In the interim, the political parties have begun well by MDP's Yameen and PPM's Yameen calling on JP's Gasim. The JP has since clarified that Gasim did not discuss second-round support, pending the court cases. Maybe, as contestants in the fray, they can talk a way out of the current impasse, and create conditions for a smooth poll process, and a smoother legal process - without each impeding on the other.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai Chapter)

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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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