COLOMBO: With the Special Congress of the Maldivian Democratic (MDP) unanimously electing on Saturday veteran politician Ibrahim Mohamed Solih alias “Ibu” as its candidate as well as that of Joint Opposition, the September 23 Maldivian Presidential election will not be a one horse race, with incumbent President Abdulla Yameen striding into his second term with ease.

Solih is not only a politician of long standing (25 years) but has been untainted by corruption charges. He is generally known to be able to get along with all sections of political opinion.

Solih’s running mate (the Vice Presidential candidate) will be a person from the Jumhoory Party (JP) headed by Gasim Ibrahim.

The running mate is likely to be Gasim Ibrahim’s wife Aishath Nahula. JP said that it will announce the name of the running mate “soon” and reaffirmed that it will support the common candidate Solih.

In his speech at the Congress, Solih pledged to ensure justice, repair relations with neighbors (India), and to free the security forces from political influences.

As a lawmaker for 25 years, he said, he has worked daily with people who held opposing views. Solih, who is now MDP parliamentary group leader, was first elected to parliament to represent Lhaviyani atoll in 1994.

“Opposition parties must compromise and work together for change, as the country needs a moment of peace,” he said.

Solih urged MDP to invite coalition partners to propose changes to its manifesto without compromising its essence.

He pledged to be “a man of the people,” and added: “I assure you that I will not be a slave to anyone.” .

The importance of the MDP congress was underscored after the shock decision by self-exiled former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed to withdraw from the Presidential race.

Prior to this announcement, on June 26, Solih had met Nasheed in Colombo. Nasheed’s withdrawal from the race was announced thereafter.

Nasheed, who is currently in self-exile in the UK and Sri Lanka, told the party Congress through a video presentation on Saturday that he would fully back Solih’s campaign.

Though the hugely popular, Nasheed’s candidacy had been in serious doubt because of his conviction for 13 years on counts relating to terrorism, nobody really expected him to relinquish the Presidential bid.

Nasheed had earlier contested and won the party primary to secure the MDP Presidential ticket. But it was later rejected by the Elections Commission.

But his bid to stand had threatened to end efforts to bring about opposition unity which many thought was absolutely necessary to defeat an entrenched President like Abdulla Yameen.

To complicate matters Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoory Party also threw in his hat in the ring and even announced his future cabinet.

It was when all hope of putting up a Joint Opposition was lost that someone or some forces prevailed upon Nasheed to back out.

The joint opposition comprising the MDP, the JP, the Islamist Adhaalath Party and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom now have a 50:50 chance of defeating President Yameen, though the MDP and the rest of the opposition rate their chances as being very high.

As a sop to the opposition and strengthen unity, the MDP mentioned in its election manifesto that after the MDP/Joint Opposition candidate wins the September 23 Presidential election, a coalition government will be formed. That will function for 18 months.

Within the 18 months ,the coalition government will dismantle the undemocratic structures and policies put in place by Yameen. It will also remove the ban on political leaders now under detention or in exile from contesting elections.

After 18 months, a fresh Presidential election will be held which will be between political parties, each party or group putting up its candidate. The leaders now under detention or in exile could contest.

However, the ruling Progress Party of Maldives (PPM) suspects that the basic idea of having an 18-month interim coalition government and then having a fresh election to be fought by political parties and leaders separately, is to enable Nasheed to get rid of his prison sentence, fight an election and become President of Maldives.

This was voiced by Abdul Raheem Abdulla, Deputy Leader of the PPM.

If not for this arrangement, Nasheed would never had agreed to step down and have another MDP person contest in his place, it is said.

Rating Solih’s chances of winning as low, Abdul Raheem Abdulla said that the Maldivian voters will not like to vote for a government which will last only for 18 months and then vote again in another Presidential election.

Solih’s Political Background

In March this year, police officially asked prosecutors to press formal charges against Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Solih was arrested during an anti-government protest in the capital Male and was remanded for nine days.

At that time ,the island nation was in political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1, ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed and JP leader Gasim Ibrahim.

The court’s verdict gave the opposition a majority in the 85-member parliament because it reinstated 12 members of parliament who were stripped of their seats last year for crossing the floor.

But two of the 12 were arrested at the airport, shortly after they returned to the Maldives after months in exile. Abdulla Sinan and Ilham Ahmed were detained on charges of bribery.

Senior MDP lawmaker, Ibrahim Mohmed Soilh condemned their arrest in a statement. “We call on the police to release the MPs immediately, and to stop following unlawful order, to stop obstructing the lawful mandate of parliamentarians,” he said.

“In a desperate attempt to cling onto power, President Yameen has illegally overrun the state: his Attorney General has illegally assumed the powers of the apex court, while the military has overrun the legislature,” he added.

But President Yameen declared a State of Emergency on February 5 after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the February 1 order failed.

He then purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges, including Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed. Many remaining political leaders were also arrested on various charges including terrorism/plotting to overthrow the legitimate government.

Prosecutors got the criminal court to remand the suspects until the end of their respective trials, though under normal circumstances, they could be released upon the lifting of the State of Emergency.

The most high-profile figures remanded until the end of their trial included former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed - all now formally charged with terrorism over the alleged plot to overthrow the government.

Prosecutors had also formally charged four opposition lawmakers over the alleged coup plot.

Gayoom's lawmaker son, Faris Maumoon, Jumhoory Party (JP) deputy leader Abdulla Riyaz, Dhangethi lawmaker Ilham Ahmed and South-Machchangoalhi lawmaker Abdulla Sinan have all been charged with terrorism/conspiring to overthrow the government.

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