Originally Published 2015-06-17 00:00:00 Published on Jun 17, 2015
In Maldives, the combined Opposition rally on June 12 failed to impress or inspire. The failure is attributed to the confusion caused by the unclear Opposition response to President Yameen's call for political negotiations.
Yameen greets poor Opposition rally with China visit

In what is acknowledged as a 'poor show' by a columnist in the pro-MDP Minivan News web-journal, the combined Opposition rally on 12 June failed to impress or inspire. So much seems to have been his confidence that President Abdulla Yameen, who was expected to be frightened by the Opposition's show-of-strength, took time off from his continuing political travails and tribulations of the previous months, to be in distant China, where he also declared that bilateral relations were at an 'all-time high' now.

The Opposition blame-game has already started as to why the MDP-organised rally could attract only 2,000 participants as against a Minivan News-claimed 20,000 at the May Day rally, for which the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) ally was the oganiser. But such suggestions have also been accompanied by calls for introspection, particularly in the combined Opposition's differing responses to President Yameen's revived call for 'divide-and-talk' negotiations strategy.

At the centre of the continuing Opposition demand is freedom for jailed former President Mohammed 'Anni' Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), AP leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and also former Defence Minister Col Ahmed Nazim (retd), jailed after the court was told that he was in possession of illegal weapons while in office under the incumbent government. Yet, when the MDP was the organiser, and the party is respected, feared and at times despised for its street-fighters and storm-troopers, it could bring only an estimated 2,000 persons on to the Male streets.

Who is to blame and why?

As was only to be expected, the current failure is attributed to the confusion caused by the unclear Opposition response to President Yameen's call for political negotiations. With the Government insisting on non-participation by jailed leaders, including President Nasheed and AP's Sheikh Imran, only the billionaire-politician Gasim Ibrahim's Jumhooree Party (JP) was ready for talks, even though a couple of party leaders had left the country with at least one of them declaring that he was seeking political-asylum in an undisclosed country.

Despite he recording a near-25 percent 'transferrable' vote-share in the first round of the 2013 presidential polls, up from 15 percent in 2008, Gasim Ibrahim's is a one-man party. Despite his 'starting troubles' in the alliance government under President Yameen, he was still a 'reluctant suitor' when the MDP strategists unilaterally named him as their choice for an 'interim president' of sorts, when they publicly demanded the incumbent to hand over the power to the JP leader, who was not in the constitutionally-mandated warrant of precedent by any strech of imagination.

Aware of the imminent fallout of such a course on his business empire, Gasim was still forced to toe the MDP line after a 'suspicious' Yameen Government launched a series of administrative action and rendered his Villa Group bankrupt, overnight. Even otherwise, cautious not to be blamed for re-introducing non-gentlemanly street-politics into the nation all over again, Gasim, as the 'absentee' commissar of the combined Opposition's first rally of 27 February, laid down stringent rules for the participants, who were mostly not used to organiser-driven disciplining of the kind.

Today, when the 12 June failure has hit them on the face, some in the MDP are ready to turn the tables on Gasim and the JP, starting with their reluctant participantion since the first rally. As they have noted, though JP leaders and cadres too participated in the 12 June rally, the party did not formally declare their participation. From the AP side, too, there seems to be a lack of enthusiasm from its pool of religion-centric civil society organisations, which have had only a love-hate relationship with the MDP : "Democracy, yes, pro-West politics and policies, no."

Yet, none of these could explain as to how the MDP, which can still boast of being the single largest party in the country with nearly 47,000 members and whose charismatic leader Nasheed had polled close to 50 percent vote-share in the 2013 presidential polls even while losing it, could not produce even modest number more respectable than those that gathered on 12 June. One, the MDP was the organiser of the rally, two, the party is known as street-fighters, and three and more importantly, the rally itself had boiled down to one pressing the months-long demand for Nasheed's freedom.

Time for introspection

Pro-MDP writers have already begun calling upon the party to 'introspect' on what had gone wrong, since. However, much of it revolves around blaming others for their own collective failure(s). That includes the Government leadership, of course. The latest in the series - and maybe rightly so - includes reduction in 'visitation rights', and also adequate and timely medical care for imprisoned Nasheed, apart from the alleged withdrawal of military security for his wife and former First Lady, Laila Ali at the 12 June rally, against all laws, norms and precedents. The empathy that it was expected to evoke in long-term Nasheed loyalists did not reflect on Male streets.

Even granting the MDP criticism of the Yameen leadership for using 'excessive force' (yet, stopping with pepper-spray and teargas shells) to disperse street-protestors and using anti-terror laws against their leaders, when it might not have been justified in the normal course, there is no explanation for the ranks' not having the appetite or stomach, for measures of the kind that should have been anticipated in the first place. There seems to be a sea-change in popular perceptions, or so it seems - and it's time the party and its allies looked around to check that they were not still living in a past that does not hold any relevance any more to the 'present generation', which itself is telescoping faster than before.

Whether party leaders and cadres alike shared a recent Nasheed lawyer's views for him to appeal against his trial court conviction and/or seek presidential clemency - as against continuing with his stubborn stone-walling tactics that might have paid at a different time - is also something that they all should be looking at. This is, not to leave out the option of their participating in the political negotiations offered by President Yameen, where again freedom for jailed leaders, starting with President Nasheed, could become a part of the outcome than pre-condition, lest they should lose out on whatever bargaining chip that still remains.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at the 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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