Colombo, September 30: The Maldives will be having a runoff of the September 9 Presidential election on Saturday, September 30.
The runoff will take place without any clear winner in sight, and a referendum on a switch over to the parliamentary system slated for October 30 is only deepening the political mystery.
The September 9 poll had resulted in an inconclusive verdict with none of the eight candidates getting more than 50% of the valid votes. A runoff between incumbent President Ibrahim Solih and his immediate challenger Dr.Mohamed Muizzu of the Peoples’ National Congress was fixed for September 30.
The winner in the runoff should get 50% plus of the valid votes.
However, as was the case on September 9, there is no sure-shot winning candidate in the runoff either. The reason for this is the same as before – the absence of an outstanding candidate and a single clear political goal before the voters.
Both Solih and Muizzu have their strengths and weaknesses. There are some new alliances between political groups, but it is not certain if these patchwork deals will deliver the goods.
Then there are the new registrations on the voters’ list. Their preferences are not known. In the September 9 election, 20% did not vote. It is not known how many of these have changed their minds in this regard.
Political observers also sense voter fatigue and an alienation from Maldivian politics which have far too long been based on false promises, arbitrariness in governance, non-performance and corruption.
Voters are also said to be tired of foreign interference in Maldivian politics and administration, be it from China or India. Besides the sovereignty issue, there is anxiety about being drawn into a geopolitical conflict between China on the one hand and India and the US on the other.
In these elections, Solih has been identified with India and Muizzu with China, though neither has been wearing his affiliation on his sleeve considering the voters’ antipathy for such affiliations.
Going by the voting in the September 9 poll, Solih and Muizzu have an equal chance. Muizzu got 46.19% and Solih 39.04%. If the votes of the Democrats’ candidate, Ilyas Labeeb (6.99%), are added to Solih’s Solih and Muizzu will be even.
They will have get the support of the other smaller groups.
Between Solih and Muizzu, Moizzu had a better chance till Solih and the Democrats’ leader Mohamed Nasheed struck a deal a few days ago.
As per the deal, Solih agreed to Nasheed’s condition that a referendum should be held to switch from the Presidential to the parliamentary system.
Parliament, of which Nasheed is the Speaker, passed a resolution to hold the referendum on October 30.
Therefore, whoever wins the September 30 runoff, will not be sure of remaining an Executive President with full powers after the October 30 referendum.
As per Nasheed’s proposal for a parliamentary system, a directly elected President will be a constitutional Head of State with limited discretionary powers, while executive power will be with the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will be the Head of Government and answerable to parliament.
In other words, the Maldivian President will be like the Singaporean President, directly elected, but with limited discretionary powers.
On the subject of peoples’ preferences, there is only one survey done so far on the proposed constitutional change – the Baani Centre for International Policy’s survey done this month. It showed that 64% were in favour of the Presidential system, 12% against, and 19% were undecided.
“This suggests that the parliamentary camp, led by Nasheed’s Democrats, has an uphill task to convince voters to switch systems, with just a month of campaigning available before referendum day,” the survey report said.
The results of the survey is disputed by Nasheed’s supporters. They said that the last time a referendum on the constitutional change to a parliamentary system in 2007, it got 38% of the votes even though the vote was rigged and the Presidential system won the day.
If the current survey is any indication, and if the issue of constitutional change figures in the September 30 poll, the Solih-Nasheed alliance may not work for Solih.
On top of it, Nasheed has said that the Democrats will not be voting in the runoff!.
Nasheed’s interest is basically in the referendum. He has been campaigning against the Presidential system and the concentration of power in one person’s hands, for years. Nasheed is an ideologue more than a politician with an interest in power mainly.
The net result might turn out to be advantageous to Muizzu, who was the frontrunner in the September 9 election.
Muizzu is also portraying himself as “doer” in contrast to the lacklustre and inefficient Solih who is accused of not efficiently using the liberal aid that India had given to his government.
Solih has been trying to make up for lost time by announcing grandiose schemes and liberal handouts of land and other goodie. But this came in pointed criticism by the European Union election observers’ report.
Muizzu had shone in contrast to Solih as Housing Minister under President Abdulla Yameen and as the Mayor of the capital city Male.
But the downside of Muizzu is that he is associated with the dictatorial and corrupt regime of Yameen. By displaying pictures of Yameen in his election rallies, Muizzu has been showing himself as Yameen’s proxy.
But that can cut both ways. While Yameen has his followers, he has opponents and distractors too.
If Muizzu becomes President with Yameen doing the backseat driving, China’s hands will be strengthened and India’s weakened.
However, political observers in Male say that Muizzu is well aware of the geopolitical consequences of tilting to China markedly, and has been soft-pedalling the China link in his campaign speeches.
He has been advocating the need to steer clear of geopolitical blocs and chart an independent course.