Originally Published 2013-11-11 08:49:13 Published on Nov 11, 2013
In Maldives, successive elections have shown that the MDP is still not in 'absolute majority' in electoral terms. The DRP cross-over in Parliament after the annulled polls, which alone gave the MDP combine a working majority in the House, may not tell the whole story.
Maldives: Presidential poll falls into a pattern
" As was expected under the circumstances, the first-round vote in the much-delayed and debated re-poll to the Maldivian presidency has produced no clear victor, as the court-annulled first round before it. With the Supreme Court again interjecting almost at the last hour, the mandated second-round polling to choose the next President will be held on Saturday, 16 November, five days behind the constitutionally-indicated last day for incumbent, President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik.

The re-poll also showed no major shift in the poll percentages, so to say. Anything other than such a course could have produced a clear winner in the first round itself, putting an end to the political and constitutional questions that have retained the national and international focus, still. In a way, the Maldivian voter seemed unmoved beyond a point by the current and continuing concerns of the international community over issues of political stability and healthy democracy. He was unwilling as yet to give an absolute, 50-percent vote-mandate to any of the contesting candidates, despite all the political bickering and constitutional possibilities.

It may not be akin to the 'none-of-the-above' (NOTA) debate in neighbouring India, for instance, but it has had all the bearings of a 'none-of-the-above-in-the-first-round' ring to it, all the same. In a way, the Maldivian voter may have told his disparate and even more desperate polity that he still was the master, and that he understands the electoral game much as any other ? and much better than he may be credited with. By letting/forcing the top two candidates in the first round, namely President Nasheed and former Finance Minister Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) to go in for a second-round from a field of three now, but four originally, he may have even told their political leaders that they do not measure up, as yet ? and that they are also under the constant and continuing watch of the voter himself.

With a marginal fall in the voter turn-out (87.16 percent provisional) against the annulled first round (88.48 percent), the first-round re-poll saw former President Mohammed 'Anni' Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) polling 46.87 percent vote-share as against 45.45 percent in the annulled vote. In real numbers, he obtained 96,589 votes against 95,244 votes earlier. Against this, Yameen improved his second position vastly, by polling 61,454 votes (29.82 percent) as against 53,099 votes (25.35 percent). Therein may lay a tale.

The third candidate in the fray, Jumhooree Party founder Gasim Ibrahim, who had polled 50,422 votes (24.07 percent) the last time round, even otherwise saw a marginal fall in his votes, 48,023 (23.30 percent). He is thus out of the race for the second round, possibly more convinced than in the annulled poll of 7 September that the gap for the second place has widened since. Yet, he too may not be out of political and electoral relevance, as yet.

The annulled poll earlier had President Waheed too in the race, but finishing a poor fourth, with just 10,750 votes, or 5.13 percent. Without providing for the marginal fall in voter turn-out, a loose interpretation of the re-poll first-round would indicate that much of the votes that had gone to President Waheed in the annulled vote ? he chose not to contest in the countermanded re-poll after the Supreme Court had cleared both ideas ? may have gone Yameen's way this time round.

In the same way, the residual votes of President Waheed, along with the marginal fall in Gasim Ibrahim's vote-figures may have gone to President Nasheed. Whether the minimal votes that may have gone to President Nasheed from President Waheed's pool owed to the Dhivehi Rayyathunge Party (DRP) could be a question, though not hugely relevant as many others. DRP leader Thasmeen Ali, as may be recalled, was President Waheed's running-mate, but changed sides to back the MDP and President Nasheed, both inside and outside the People's Majlis or Parliament, soon afterward.

If the argument holds good, then the comparison of figures between the two votes also show that the MDP did not (have to), or could not, attract any new voters on its own for President Nasheed in the first-round re-poll. That makes the second-round even more interesting for the people of Maldives and political observers, both inside and outside the country, and all the more challenging for the two candidates and their campaign managers.

Gasim to stay neutral

By improving upon the already high poll percentage in his favour, MDP's Nasheed has shown that he is still the favourite for the second round. In arithmetic terms, too, he needs to garner only an additional three percent vote-share, or even less, against constant voter turn-out figures. Against this, Yameen, who has however narrowed down the gap, from 20.10 percent vote-share to 17.05 percent, however has tough work on hand. He will need to add up a high 20 percent vote-share to his current figures to become President ? close to seven times the vote-share that President Nasheed requires for the same purpose.

Gasim Ibrahim, whose party had sought time for deciding on his second-round choice for support and consequent campaigning from the Supreme Court, has since announced his decision not to support either of the two candidates in the fray. The possibility was in the horizon after he had moved the courts challenging the results of what turned out to be the annulled round. The wider margin with Yameen this time compared to the previous one left him with little choice but to concede the first-round, at the same time left with him even less choice in choosing between Nasheed and Yameen. According to local media reports, the national council of his Jumhooree Party (JP) voted overwhelmingly to stay neutral.

That is, howeve,r not the case with Gasim's allies in what was known as the 'Jumhooree coalition'. Religion-centric Adhhalath Party (AP) has decided to back Yameen in double-quick time once the poll results were known. The party had done likewise soon after the annulled first round but continued to stick with Gasim on the ground after the court first stayed and then cancelled the second-round vote at the time. The AP's decision to back the PPM now coincides with the JP's decision to stay neutral.

In electoral terms, the AP may not mean much, compared to the JP, in whose name Gasim Ibrahim had polled 15.22 percent vote-share in the first multi-party presidential polls of 2008. His running-mate in this year's polls, Dr Hassan Saeed, who had polled a marginally higher 16.67 percent vote-share in 2008 (both contesting as independents and independent of each other) announced his retirement from active politics, after the results of re-poll first-round were known.

It can be surmised that much of Hassan Saeed's 2008 vote-share may have migrated to the MDP rival over the past years, to add an additional 20-plus percent vote-share to Nasheed's 2008 first-round kitty of 24.91 percent vote-share. He went on to bag the presidency in the second-round then, on the strength of the commitments made by Hassan Saeed and Gasim, against incumbent President Maumoon Gayoom ? who had come on the top of the heap with a high 40 percent vote-share in the first-round polls of 2008.

In an otherwise polarised polity and society, the two rounds of polls thus far has shown the MDP and President Nasheed to be what they are ? the number one polity and popular leader, respectively, in the country. They are also way ahead of the rest, individually, in the department. Collectively, however, it is not so. Successive elections have shown that the MDP is still not in 'absolute majority' in electoral terms. The DRP cross-over in Parliament after the annulled polls, which alone gave the MDP combine a working majority in the House, may not tell the whole story.

The DRP had won those seats before party-founder Gayoom left to float the PPM. The upcoming second-round presidential polls, followed by December elections to the all-island local councils in December and Parliament (May 2014) may be the clincher. Should Gasim and the JP decide to stay alone for those two round of elections, the results could be as interesting to analysts and observers as they would be challenging for the nation's polity, the MDP in particular ? not necessarily in terms of votes and seats but on the question of the party winning an absolute majority through the electoral process, and not post-poll alliances of one kind or the other.

SC encourages Waheed to stay

In a near-repetition of the annulled poll's performance, it is not only the Maldivian polity and people who have followed a pattern. Even the nation's judiciary sort of did so after it annulled the effect of an MDP-sponsored resolution in Parliament, for President Waheed to hand over charge to Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid, at the end of the five-year term on 11 November.

The resolution derived in a way from the relevant constitutional provision, which provides for the Speaker to be in control for 60 days, if the posts of the President and the Vice-President had fallen vacant, but did not address the current situation, wherein no election was possible, that too owing to judicial intervention and interpretation, again under the very same Constitution. In the absence of a two-thirds majority, the MDP combine could not have the Constitution amended to address the void, the same way they could not have a no-trust motion moved against incumbent Waheed, earlier. Yet, when the resolution was passed, members belonging to parties not belonging to the anti-MDP combine were conspicuous by their absence, reflecting the political mindset of a polarized society.

As may be recalled, a four-Judge 'majority verdict' of the court, while cancelling the 7 September vote and directing fresh elections, had suo motu addressed the question, indicating that the incumbent would continue in office until a new President was elected under the law. The court reiterated the position over the weekend, and the MDP on the one hand, and Speaker Shahid on the other were critical of the same. President Nasheed said that the international community should de-legitimise the Waheed regime beyond 11 November.

While sympathising with Nasheed over early second-round, as fixed for Sunday, 10 November, and even arguing the case for non-intervention by the judiciary, the world at large has had little manoeuveability beyond a point in matters of judicial pronouncements, and consequent conduct of elections. The UN, the Commonwealth, the US and the UK were among those who sought second round polls on 10 November, as re-scheduled by the EC in consultation with the three candidates.

Thus, the four-judge Bench of the apex court ruled -- just hours after the second-round polls were to commence -- that the re-poll cannot be advanced after it had been fixed for Saturday, 16 November. While the EC did the best possible thing under the circumstances, to advance the second-round poll-date to 10 November after all three candidates together called for the same, it's anybody's guess why none of us felt that it proper to approach the Supreme Court with the common submission, after the latter had got involved with the poll process earlier and was possibly still at it.

With the Supreme Court order in favour of his continuing in office until a new President is elected, incumbent Waheed has declared that he would not stay beyond 16 November, when the second-round results would be known. After the annulment of the earlier polls and his own decision not to contest the re-poll, President Waheed had spoken openly about his desire not to continue beyond 11 November, and also for the Supreme Court and Parliament to find a way out. Possibly, the court was content with declaring its position already while Parliament with a majority for the MDP combine passed the resolution, in contrast.

In all this, President Waheed might have also been stymied by the last-minute resignation of his Vice-President, Waheed Deen, on 11 November. If he had symbolically not stepped down and let his Cabinet continue, Vice-President Deen would have taken over from him ? just as he himself had succeeded President Nasheed on the fateful day of 7 February 2012. Though the reasons for Vice-President Deen's resignation are not known, his exit meant that President Waheed had only two choices ? either he continued in office, or he too quit, with Speaker Shahid as the next man in the line of succession under the Constitution. He chose the first.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation)

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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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