Originally Published 2014-02-11 07:11:27 Published on Feb 11, 2014
For a second occasion in almost as many weeks, former Maldives President Mohammed Nasheed hinted at a change of the country's leadership. Such reports will sound credible only if the MDP is able to muster two-thirds majority in Parliament.
Maldives: Talk of 'another coup'
" Former President and Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supremo Mohammed Nasheed has given what may be seen by some as a timely warning to the nation and incumbent, Abdulla Yameen, about 'another coup'. In doing so, he has possibly implied that there was an urgent need for institutional reforms, if such a course has to be averted. In an interview to MDP-supported Raajje TV, he claimed that some Supreme Court Judges were also behind what he reiterated was a 'coup' to oust him from office in February 2012 - but did not elaborate or provide substantive evidence (at least as yet).

That there is an urgent need for 'institutional reforms' in democratised Maldives is conceded readily by all sections of the nation's polity. Most leaders now in fray were also members of the Special Majlis that drafted and adopted the current 2008 Constitution. For them to concede that they may have blundered, without actually having the courage to acknowledge it as such, should be welcome.

There is, however, a need for urgency in pursuing the concerns and issues with a more substantive and meaningful national dialogue. Such a dialogue may have to wait for a new Parliament to be elected in the 22 March polls. It will be equally interesting to observe as to what various political players have to say on such issues during the current campaign period for the parliamentary polls, though it could still take a final shape, later on.

Needless to point out, various political positions that could be taken by different political parties would in turn be based on their own experience with the existing Constitution (as they perceive it) and their expectations (as they conceive it). There is no guarantee that they would not err again, but 'dynamic societies' like Maldives would always have to make constant and continuing compromises of the kind - and need not shy away from the same, now or later. It may become more difficult under different circumstances and under newer players on a distant day to attempt such changes.

Mis-reading, mis-leading

The present reference to 'another coup' apart, this is the second occasion in almost as many weeks that former President Nasheed is hinting at a change of national leadership. On the earlier occasion, media reports quoted him as saying that the MDP would move a no-trust motion against President Yameen in the post-poll Parliament and have him removed (at the first available opportunity?)

In the absence of denial to the contrary, such reports will sound credible only if the MDP is able to muster the required two-thirds majority in what will become an 85-member Parliament, up from the current strength of 77. It also implies that all MPs belonging to the party would stand by the leadership and its diktat, to vote out the incumbent. Whether it would have to be accompanied simultaneously by a no-trust move also against the incumbent Vice-President, if the political strategy was to ensure early polls to the office of the President is a moot question.

Alternatively, the MDP, which is still the single largest party, both within the People's Majlis and outside, could muster those numbers if, and only if, MPs belonging to the ruling coalition led by President Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) were to cross floor, either as constituent parties or individual members. In a country where 'defection' has been a password for political survival, both before and after the advent of multi-party democracy, such a scenario is well nigh not unimaginable!

In this background, Nasheed's caution to the incumbent and the nation is not unlikely to be mis-read and hence misunderstood. In a way, it is also misleading, thus. Whichever the scenario one were to look at, such a scare has the potential to de-stabilise the nation's polity and political administration all over again. In political term, it could become an electoral tool in the hands of the adversaries of President Nasheed and the MDP, in that order, during the run-up to next months' parliamentary polls.

In the ensuing melee, both the MDP and former President Nasheed could be dubbed 'over-ambitious' and politically greedy - which need not be the case. The two will have to remember that in the high vote-share for Nasheed in the final-round poll in the November elections, a substantial numbers were 'non-party', non-committed voters. Given the turbulent, and at times violent turn that multi-party democracy has taken since inception in 2008, this section of voters in particular (they cut across loyalty to other parties, as well) could feel 'uneasy' and 'uncomfortable', to begin with.

Going by the second scenario, encouraging defection can cut both ways. The present Parliament saw both MDP benefiting from 'defection's and losing numbers through the same. To an extent, it also depended on the 'incumbency' factor, which is a facilitator, nonetheless. It was among the various factors that helped the MDP become the single largest party after coming second in the 2009 parliamentary polls, and later going on to become the 'majority party' as well. Cross-voting, if not outright defection, also worked against the party's diktat when MDP parliamentarians more recently helped ensure the mandated Majlis' clearance for President Yameen's Cabinet as a whole, for instance.

It is the third, and more lurking of Nasheed's possible apprehensions about a 'possibly coup' as is traditionally understood, which should be of greater concern. It is here that his reassuring assurance that he "will do everything" in his "personal capacity" to prevent a coup from taking place assumes significance. Given the context, and the MDP's claims to his losing power to a coup in the past, it has now become morally, if not legally, binding on both to share whatever details that might come their way, now or in the future, with the nation and the Government of the day.

In the same vein, however, Nasheed has also possibly reiterated his past reference to a no-trust vote, when he told Raajje TV that "we will work within the legal ambit to ensure that the transition of power takes place through an election". This may have made the earlier 'reassurance' as much unsettling as it may be untimely, not only for the nation but possibly for the MDP, too, during the current run-up to the parliamentary poll and afterwards, too.

(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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