Maldivian Prez Yameen’s Bid to Cling to Power Despite Crushing Defeat
Does an about turn after publicly accepting the electoral verdict
COLOMBO: Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen, who was convincingly defeated by the Joint Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the September 23 Presidential election, is trying every trick in the book to stick to power by nullifying the result.
Yameen has time until October 12 to lodge complaints against the result. And will be in power till November 17 (when his term officially ends) to do all the follow up work.
He has already made serious charges of rigging against the Elections Commission and its chief, Ahmed Shareef. His party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has said that it does not rule out challenging the result in the Supreme Court.
And the current Supreme Court of handpicked judges is said to be his handmaiden.
If his current complaints are accepted by the complaints panel and if the Supreme Court rules in his favour, Yameen could sack the present Elections Commissioners and appoint another set of handpicked commissioners to conduct the next elections.
He has replaced the police chief subsequent to his defeat, fearing that the incumbent could begin to act in favor of the President-elect, Ibrahim Solih.
Although Yameen accepted the election result gracefully in public, stating that he was bowing to the peoples’ will and declaring that he would quit office at the end of his term on November 17, it did not take long for him to make an about turn.
It is suspected by some that either his wife or Justice Minister Azima Shakoor influenced him into thinking that he could not have lost if the election had not been manipulated in favour of the Joint Opposition by the “trusted” Chairman of the Elections Commission Ahmed Shareef.
However, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party's (MDP) spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor believes that the decision to turn turtle was Yameen’s and Yameen’s alone.
“Yameen is like that,”said Ghafoor, who has known him since his school days.
Opposition’s View of Shareef
The Opposition has for long been alleging that the Elections Commission chief Shareef was devising ingenious means to rig the election in Yameen’s favour, and had even publicised these means.
Shareef too made no secret of his commitment to Yameen. It was alleged that he had been handsomely paid for the assigned job.
According to the Maldives Independent Shareef was hand-picked by the President and endorsed by the ruling PPM at a parliament sitting boycotted by the opposition. Shareef was earlier secretary-general of Yameen’s PPM and was therefore a highly trusted follower.
Upon his nomination, the spokesman of the main opposition MDP, Imthiyaz Fahmy, had said: “We have no trust in his independence.”
The Maldives Independent said: “Shareef’s Twitter page was enough to question his neutrality. As the head of the state utility Fenaka Corporation, Shareef championed Yameen and worked for his re-election campaign, calling the President a hero while taunting the opposition.”
“The opposition knows they don’t have the slightest chance of winning an independent election against HEP Yameen because of his transformational economic agenda. The only way to achieve their selfish goal of coming to power is to attempt a coup, using money they owe to the people,” Shareef tweeted a month before his appointment to the independent electoral body.
Ahead of last year’s municipal elections, Shareef was caught on video promising jobs for opposition candidates if they withdrew their candidature. Citing his partisan background, the opposition alleged collusion and suspected Shareef would fix the election.
MDP’s Response to PPM’s Plan
Expecting the poll to be rigged by the Elections Commission, the Joint Opposition worked doubly hard to win the poll by going on door to door canvassing and using all social networks to reach the grassroots.
“While Yameen was sitting pretty confident that the system was geared to his needs and that his economic achievements would win him a clear majority, we were crunching numbers. We estimated that 70% of the electorate was anti-Yameen though the actual voting revealed that it was a little over 58% ,” Ghafoor said.
“At any rate ,the result showed that Shareef could not carry out the mandate given to him by Yameen. People had come in their thousands to vote. When they were registered in far flung areas with a design to discourage them from voting, they went to those places to exercise their franchise. Polling time had to be extended to allow the assembled to vote,” Ghafoor pointed out.
A disappointed Yameen then turned his guns against Shareef, suspecting him of taking money from the Joint Opposition to rig the election in the latter’s favour.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
Shareef is in a truly unenviable place, says Ghafoor.
“He is between a rock and a hard place. Neither Yameen nor Solih trusts him. Yameen is threatening to arrest him. Shareef and his commissioners are saying that their families are being threatened by ruling party goons,” Ghafoor commented.
According to the media, barring Shareef, the other commissioners have left the Maldives. The United Nations representative in the Maldives has met Shareef and heard his woes. The United States has appealed to Yameen and the Joint Opposition to sit together and sort out issues to bring about a smooth transfer of power.
Both Shareef and the Joint Opposition rule out a Chinese hand in Yameen’s decision to challenge the election.
“China does not interfere in the internal affairs of the Maldives,” Shareef asserted.
“Yameen did what he did because he blindly believed that he would beat the opposition going by the assurances of the yes-men around him. He did no field work to test this claim,” added Ahmed Akram, one of the five Elections Commissioners.
Even the opposition does not believe that a foreign hand is involved or that Yameen was advised wrongly by somebody.
“Yameen is his own man and he is the type who will take such decisions,” said Hamid Ghafoor of the MDP.
MDP spokesman Ghafoor concedes that the situation in the Maldives is “messy” and that the transition from Yameen to Solih is not going to be easy.
He believes that Yameen will do his utmost to stay in power. He has already changed the chief of police, and is planning to replace the Elections Commission. The ruling party has said that it had not ruled out approaching the Supreme Court to annul the election.
“The current Supreme Court judges were handpicked by him and he is counting on them to give a judgment favourable to him,” Ghafoor said.
Ghafoor did not speak of foreign intervention to save democracy. He believes that people power will ultimately prevail, as it did earlier when the all-powerful Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was ousted after a 30 year dictatorship.
It is this hope which made him talk of changing the constitution to a parliamentary system from the current presidential system, which gives too much power and discretion to a single person – the Executive President.
All parties have been victims of the heavy handed presidencies of Gayoom and Yameen, of the corrupt judiciary and the kleptocracy they fostered.
“Our priorities are to introduce the parliamentary system, reform the judiciary to make it independent, and dismantle kleptocracy,” Ghafoor said.