Colombo, October 4: The Maldivian parliament Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed his full support to the President–elect, Dr.Mohamed Muizzu.
After the two political rivals met on Wednesday, doubts arose about the planned referendum on October 30 on the issue of changing the constitution from the Presidential to the parliamentary system.
In the run-up to the Presidential election held on September 30, Nasheed had said that his party, the Democrats, would be neutral. On Wednesday, in his capacity as Speaker, Nasheed arranged a meeting of MPs with the President-elect. Welcoming Muizzu, Nasheed expressed his support and castigated outgoing Ministers who had written to foreign dignitaries telling them that the Maldives was in a bad way after the defeat of President Ibrahim Solih.
Nasheed said that a number of international dignitaries had forwarded to him such damaging messages and appealed to the Ministers concerned to refrain from bad-mouthing. Nasheed further said that he had replied to the foreign dignitaries telling them that all was well in the Maldives and that he himself had extended support to Muizzu.
“There is nothing terrible happening in Maldives with a change in government,” Nasheed said.
Nasheed had broken away from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to which the incumbent President Ibrahim Solih belongs. He floated a new outfit called The Democrats with the purpose of opposing Solih in the September Presidential election.
In the first round held on September 9, no candidate won as no one got 50% plus votes. The Democrats had come third, getting 7% of the votes, far behind Muizzu and Solih.
Before the run-off that was held on September 30, Nasheed said he would be neutral. In the run-off Muizzu got the required 50% plus and won.
Referendum on Constitutional Change
The Maldivian media reported that Nasheed had met and discussed the question of holding a referendum on changing the constitution of the Maldives from the Presidential system to the parliamentary system.
A strong and leading votary of the parliamentary system, Nasheed had earlier reached an agreement with Solih to hold a referendum on the changeover. Parliament too passed a resolution calling for a referendum. It was to be held on October 30.
However, Maldivians are divided on the change-over. In the last referendum on the issue held in 2007, the parliamentary system government got only 38% of the votes. However, Nasheed, who was then the leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), claimed that the referendum was rigged by the then President Abdul Gayoom.
Nasheed was hoping that in October 2023, the result would be different. But a survey done by an independent agency in September found that the parliamentary had very little support.
However, a persistent Nasheed raised the referendum issue with President-elect Muizzu. But Muizzu dodged the issue saying: “In course we can ask the public.”
This has cast doubt on whether the referendum will be held on October 30. Perhaps it will not be, though it might be held later.
Many, including Nasheed’s followers, feel that Muizzu, who would officially begin his Presidential innings on November 11, will be handicapped if the Presidential system loses in the October 30 referendum. He would have to be a constitutional President with only some residual powers and not an Executive President with humongous powers. He was elected by the people in a direct election to be an Executive President and not a constitutional or decorative President mainly with ceremonial functions.
By not committing to a time frame, and saying it would be held “in due course,” Muizzu, has bought valuable time.
With Nasheed apparently on his side (for now at least) and assuming that Nasheed does not raise the referendum issue again, the referendum may not be held at all.
Any move to rake up the issue may not find popular resonance. This is because the recent election has indicated that Maldivians want a stable government which is vested with adequate powers to take quick decisions and implement them through a centralized administration. The Presidential system is best suited for that.