Colombo, January 29: Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih has won the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s primary ahead of the October 2023 Maldivian Presidential election. But Solih’s win in Saturday’s primary has not been accepted by his opponent, former Maldivian President and the current parliament Speaker, Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed has now said that for any rapprochement with Solih, the latter has to take back party members who were unfairly disenfranchised and also hold a referendum on changing the constitution to abolish the Presidential system and adopt a parliamentary system – a proposal he had agreed to before the 2018 Maldivian Presidential election.
Nasheed’s supporters told this correspondent that the primary was flawed because 39,000 party men or 40% of the MDP’s membership, had been deleted from the rolls ahead of the primary.
The deletions were tenable in some cases but grossly untenable in others, they said. While it was reasonable to remove names of people who were members of other parties also, it was unreasonable to remove people for the sole reason that their fingerprints were not in the party records, said Hamid Ghafoor, the former International Spokesman of the MDP. Aishath Shifala tweeted to say that her name had been registered even though she was not a member of the party.
“Some whose fingerprints were not there are senior members of the MDP who had voted in every party election in the past. I am one of them,” Ghafoor said.
“Just before the primary, the Solih group had invoked a law enacted by former President Abdulla Yameen in 2016 making the fingerprinting of political party members a requirement. My argument is that the 2016 law could not be applied retrospectively to persons who were already members,” Ghafoor said.
Ghafoor had gone to court on the fingerprinting issue and the case is pending.
“In our view, Nasheed would have won the primary if the membership had not been pruned by 40%,” he added.
The results of the primary announced on Saturday was that Solih got 60% of the votes polled and Nasheed 40%.
Nasheed Rejects Result
The media reported Nasheed as saying that he does not accept the results. But he has not revealed his next step. It is unclear if he would challenge the result legally or if he would contest the October 2023 Presidential election as an independent candidate.
Earlier he had said that he was standing against Solih because if Solih were the MDP candidate in the Presidential candidate again, the party would lose.
“The conflict between Nasheed and Solih is ideological. While Solih’s politics is transactional, Nasheed’s politics is ideological. Nasheed is the party’s soul. Solih does not represent the soul of the party,” Ghafoor maintained.
While having no quarrel over foreign policy (both Nasheed and Solih are pro-India and anti-China), Nasheed has been pointing out key deficiencies in the Solih regime at the domestic level, principally in the matter of the adherence to MDP’s ideology and carrying out promised constitutional reforms.
Nasheed has pointed out that Solih has been soft on Islamic extremists. Solih is in alliance with the Islamist Adaalath Party and Islamism has a base in Maldivian thinking, generally. But the MDP is theoretically wedded to establishing a secular Maldives based on moderate Islam. Nasheed fears the inroad of Wahhabi Islam because many young Maldivians had joined the Islamic State (IS) and committed terrorist acts in the Maldives itself.
The Solih government had established a Presidential Commission on Deaths and Disappearances to investigate suspicious deaths and disappearances, including the murder by Islamic radicals of Yameen Rasheed, the liberal blogger in April 2017. The Commission had assured the public that all 27 cases falling under its mandate would complete investigations within two years. But there has been no conviction yet.
On May 6, 2021, Nasheed himself had survived an assassination attempt by Islamic extremists. There was criticism by his followers that the police did not pursue the case vigorously, because the police force was infiltrated by Islamic radicals.
Further, Solih and Nasheed had agreed before the 2018 Presidential election that, within 18 months of coming to power, Solih would hold a referendum on changing the country’s Presidential system to the parliamentary system. But Solih failed to hold the referendum, ensconced as he was in the powerful Presidency.
This irked Nasheed, who believes that the Presidential system would lead to concentration power, dictatorship and unbridled corruption, while the parliamentary system would be more democratic. He also believes that inter-party coalitions, which are natural in Maldivian politics, will work better in a parliamentary system.
Soft On the Corrupt
Nasheed also accuses of the Solih regime of corruption and changing or using rules to suit its political interest. According to Ghafoor, the government initially made a rule that any minister against whom a case was lodged in court would be removed until the court ruled in the minister’s favor. Later, this rule was altered to say that removal would only follow conviction. “This way corrupt ministers will stay on till their cases are decided,” Ghafoor commented.
Accusing Solih of being lenient toward corrupt high-ups, Nasheed recalled that multiple charges had been proven against former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb and the then Managing Director of a State Enterprise, Abdulla Ziyath. But both Adeeb and Ziyath executed plea agreements with the State to receive minimum sentences. In 2019, Adeeb and Ziyath were also transferred to house custody.
Nasheed’s followers believe that he will win the October 2023 Presidential election against Solih.
“Solih now heads a government with Qasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree party, Abdul Gayoom’s Maumun Reform Movement Party and the Adaalath Party, as allies. These parties will surely contest the Presidential election against Solih. Qasim has always contested elections and Gayoom has said parties exist to contest elections. If they do contest, and Nasheed has the support of those who had been denied voting rights in the MDP plus the support of the masses outside, he will win,” Ghafoor predicted.
Maldives is in for an interesting time also because the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) headed by former President Abdulla Yameen is very active, though Yameen is in jail for high corruption.
“Every night PPM cadres are holding street demonstrations demanding their leader’s release,” Ghafoor said.
Yameen represents the anti-India and pro-China section of Maldivians. He had carried out a long drawn out “India Out” campaign against the Indian military presence in the Maldives. Yameen’s party will further split the voters, throwing the Presidential contest wide open.