COLOMBO: In the Maldivian Presidential election to be held on September 23, the contest is between the need for a sweeping change in the country’s constitution to make it more democratic on the one hand, and on the other, the need for rapid economic development under stable and orderly conditions, even if these conditions do not accord with notions of democracy prevalent in the West.

The former line has been adopted by the Joint Opposition led by former President Mohamed Nasheed and its Presidential candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. The latter line is touted by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) led by the incumbent President, Abdulla Yameen.

Yameen’s rule has been marked,on the one hand,by intolerance of internal dissidence and of the formal opposition, and on the other hand, by administrative and policy stability, rapid economic development and expansion of social services. In other words, Yameen Replaced chaos by orderliness and economic development.

But his intolerance led to the opposition’s appealing to the international community to help overthrow him by naming and shaming him and threatening to impose sanctions. Nasheed went a step further than his colleagues and sought a “military-backed diplomatic intervention” by India.

That hyperbolic demand came after Yameen jailed virtually all major opposition leaders and prominent dissidents on charges of terrorism and conspiring to overthrow the government by surreptitious means.

Prior to this, Nasheed Had wanted to oust Yameen by “constitutional means” and promised that the constitutional coup was round the corner. However, it wasn’t long before Yameen discovered that the scheme to overthrow him “constitutionally” was to get the Supreme Court judges to give rulings which would nullify all his anti-opposition actions.

The government charged the self-exiled opposition Jumhoory Party leader, Gasim Ibrahim, of bribing the judges to get the verdict. The judges had also delivered the verdict without hearing the Attorney General.

Yameen declared a State of Emergency and arrested the Chief Justice and one of the judges.He also used a special provision in the law to get measures passed by parliament without the requisite majority.

Move to Replace Presidential System

It was a series of dictatorial actions of this sort which forced the opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) to include in its Presidential election manifesto, the goal of changing the constitution from the Presidential system to the Westminster –style parliamentary system.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, International spokesman for the MDP, said that one of the main tasks of the MDP and the Joint opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, would be to get the parties in the opposition alliance to accept the proposed constitutional makeover.

“I do not know if he would be able to do it, but it will be his and the MDP’s endeavor to get the constituent parties of the joint opposition to agree to the switch over to the parliamentary system,” Ghafoor said.

The MDP favors the parliamentary system because in it, power is not concentrated in any one office, while in the Presidential system it is concentrated in the office of the President.

“Moreover, the Maldivian political system is based on constituencies where members of parliament represent particular constituencies. Pluralism is thus built into the Maldivian political system,” Ghafoor pointed out.

As per the MDP manifesto released in June, which the Joint Opposition had unofficially accepted, the constitution should be changed in the first 18 months of the joint opposition candidate’s assumption of office as President of the Maldives.

The next parliamentary elections should be held under a parliamentary constitution in which the various parties would contest against each other. The already elected President is expected to be a titular head.

But MDP’s coalition partners are silent on the changeover from the Presidential To a parliamentary one.

“ JP leader Gasim Ibrahim would like to be the Executive President and wield the kind of power which Yameen now wields. Therefore, it remains to be seen if the JP and the other parties in the Joint Opposition will go along with the MDP’s plan to change the constitution,” an MDP leader, who did not want to be identified, said.

“If Gasim Agrees to a constitutional amendment at all, it will only be in regard to the age bar for contesting. He would seek the deletion of the clause which says that no one who is 65 and above can stand for the Presidency. Gasim is over 65,” the source added.

But ruling PPM sources say that governments in a parliamentary system will be necessarily unstable as they will be rickety coalitions. Coalitions have failed in the Maldives because they had invariably broken upas leaders with vaulting ambitions had jockeyed for power. Coalitions had jeopardized economic development. From 2008 to 2013 there was a lot of politics but little or no economic development, it is pointed out. It was thanks to the ascendency of a tough leader like Yameen In 2013,that the Maldives began to witness economic development, the launching of many mega infrastructural projects (with China’s help) as well small grassroots level welfare projects.

Yameen’s Developmental Efforts

According to official statistics, Yameen’s government has completed 2757 projects costing US$ 5.7 billion since it came into being in 2013.

There have been 565 sports infrastructure projects in 160 islands totally costing US$ 240 million.The government has spent US$ 1.04 billion on 212 projects in the health sector in 137 islands. The Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) has expanded its capacity to 500 beds. There are now facilities in the Maldives to treat kidney, cancer and heart patients. A cardiac center has come up in the IGMH. A 100 bed tertiary hospital is coming up soon in Addu Atoll. Regional hospitals are being upgraded and refurbished. Health Centers have come up in the smallest islands.

The government has given a lot of importance to education. The 174 educational projects in 114 islands have got a total allocation of US$ 1.69 billion. Books have been replaced by tablets. Virtual classrooms and libraries have been established. The government has created 22 new schools with a total of 792 classrooms.

Social housing is another area which has been given great importance by the Yameen regime. The government’s 34 social housing projects spread over 20 islands are being executed with a budgetary allocation of US$ 1.3 billion. The ongoing “HIYAA” Social housing project will solve the housing problem of 160,000 people. This massive project is expected to be completed in 2019.

Land has been reclaimed from the sea to meet emerging requirements. 240 hectares of land were reclaimed under the Hulhumale Phase 2 scheme and 493 hectares were reclaimed in another four islands.

Addressing the issue of public health, the government put up 82 sewerage systems in 57 Islands. There are 193 waste management projects; 83 harbor development projects; and 61 clean water projects.

Road development has been completed in 22 Islands. It is ongoing in 13 other islands. Domestic airport construction, theVelanaa International Airport expansion, and the China-Maldives Friendship Bridge are nearing completion.

However, what the people think of these developments is still a mystery. The ruling PPM and President Yameen hope that the people are appreciative and will vote for the PPM candidate. A source close to the President said that while the younger generation may opt for the opposition because they tend to be dazzled by Nasheed’s advocacy of democracy and his daredevilry, the middle aged and older voters will prefer a stable and performing government to a democratic but non-functioning system in which politicians enjoy the freedom of the wild ass.

While the Maldivian media is generally against Yameen and his government, it cannot be automatically concluded that the voters too are against the regime. The people are silent. The mystery will be solved only when votes are cast and counted.