Political Challenges that Await Solih, Maldives' President Elect
New Delhi could explore other potential allies
The Maldivian Supreme Court has refused to accept President Abdulla Yameen’s plea to annul the September 23 Presidential election on grounds of “rigging”, thus paving the way for the President-elect, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, to assume office as scheduled on November 17.
But the Maldivian Presidency is a hot seat. He would be facing multiple challenges both in the immediate and the long term, thanks to flaws inherent in Maldivian democracy.
The outgoing President, Abdulla Yameen, will remain a challenge, given the fact that he had secured 41.6% of the votes in the September 23 election.
But Solih is expected to face greater challenges from his coalition partners because he will be heading a coalition government comprising disparate partners often in competition and conflict with each other.
Moreover, as per the constitution, the President has to take parliamentary sanction for practically all his actions. This means that he is dependent on the composition of the parliament. A fractured parliament divided by competing groups could stymie his proposals.
Coalitions Have Been Fragile
Maldivian political history shows that while parties form coalitions to fight elections, they tend to break up after the elections when they come to power. Coalition partners tend to make high demands, giving rise to differences and a power struggle.
Additionally, some of the leading political figures are essentially kleptocrats and power grabbers and it is these who cause problems, said a leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of which the President-elect is a member.
“Maldives is a nascent democracy undergoing teething troubles,” the MDP leader added. The truth in this is amply evident in the working of the present constitution drafted in 2008, the first democratic constitution in the history of the country.
Maldivian political history is replete with cases of political partners breaking up because loyalty and principled associations had not taken root. Add to this the kleptocracy that has characterized the system since Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year dictatorship, one gets the right recipe for chaos.
In 2008, opponents of strongman Gayoom, led by Mohamed Nasheed’s MDP, formed a rainbow coalition to bring an end to Gayoom’s dictatorship. But it did not take long for the coalition to break up after the goal of removing Gayoom was achieved.
It was in June 2005 that Gayoom allowed political parties to register. The main parties which registered at that time were the MDP led by Nasheed; the Dihevi Raiyyuthunge Party (DRP) led by Gayoom; the Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) and the Adhaalath Party (AP) led by Islamic fundamentalists.
Come 2008, a series of mass agitations for democracy led by Nasheed’s MDP and others resulted in the Maldives’ getting a democratic constitution. And the country’s first multi-party Presidential election was held in 2008.
In that election, which took two rounds to find a result, the DRP’s candidate and incumbent President Gayoom lost to Nasheed. Nasheed became President and head of a coalition government. Mohammed Waheed Hassan of the Gaumee Ittihad party became Vice President.
In the parliamentary elections held in 2009, the Nasheed-led MDP got 30.81% of the votes and secured 26 seats in a parliament of 85 members. But Gayoom's DRP, with 24.62% of the vote, received more seats (28), giving ground for a conflict over legitimacy.
Nasheed’s government also faced many challenges arising from an economic downturn, huge debts, over-spending, youth unemployment and drug abuse. Taxation on goods was introduced for the first time, causing unrest among the people.
After weeks of agitations, Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012.
Nasheed’s getting the military to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, had proved to be very controversial. The police had joined the protesters forcing the army to take action against them. When Nasheed quit, Vice President Mohammeed Waheed Hassan Manik took over.
Meanwhile in 2011, Gayoom had left the DRP (which he had himself founded) and floated the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM). In the 2013 Presidential election, his half brother, Abdulla Yameen, was the PPM’s candidate against Nasheed of the MDP.
Nasheed got more votes than Yameen. But contrary to international opinion, the Supreme Court cited irregularities and ordered a second round. Yameen emerged victorious in the second round. This was because Gasim Ibrahim, heading his party the JP, took a last minute decision to support Yameen.
But the Yameen-led PPM broke, with his brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom breaking away and legally challenging Yameen’s take over the PPM. The case is still being heard.
Gayoom hopes to get the PPM back. And fearing a Gayoom take over, Yameen got himself re-elected as PPM President in the last party convention.
On September 28, 2015 an explosion went off as President Yameen’s speedboat was docking at the Male jetty. Yameen blamed Vice President Ahmed Adheeb for the alleged attempt on his life. Yameen got parliament to remove him from the Vice Presidency and arrested him.
Gasim Ibrahim’s Shifting Loyalty
Gasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhoory Party (JP), has also shifted loyalties many times. He was Minister of Finance and Treasury in the Gayoom government. He left the Gayoom government and Gayoom’s party, the DRP, to contest the 2008 Presidential election as the candidate of the Jumhoory Party (JP) which he had floated.
But in the second round of the 2008 election, Gasim backed Nasheed of the MDP-led coalition. This tilted the scales against Gayoom and Nasheed won. Gasim subsequently joined Nasheed's government as Minister for Home Affairs.
But he resigned 20 days later, citing policy differences. He also became a vocal critic of the Nasheed regime. Gasim is said to have funded the anti-Nasheed demonstrations in 2012 which resulted in the ouster of Nasheed from the Presidency.
However, a shared hostility towards President Yameen brought Gasim Ibrahim and Nasheed together. The same factor brought Nasheed and Gayoom together. All three had been arrested and incarcerated by Yameen. Gasim became an active partner of the anti-Yameen coalition led by Nasheed and Gayaoom.
Solih Can Manage
However, MDP leaders say that the suave and cleaver President elect, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, will be able to manage his ambitious and shifty coalition partners.
“Solih is a fixer, a Mr.Fix it. He can manage people by deft handling. The fact that he does his political work avoiding the limelight helps,” observed an MDP insider.
Solih will also face difficulties with the parliament because for every action as President, he will have to get parliamentary sanction. But he has the required political skill and experience to tackle these issues, the MDP insider said.
Marginalization Of Kleprocrats
Be that as it may, the MDP’s main endeavor will be to keep “power grabbers and kleptocrats” out. In other words, there will be attempt to marginalize politicos like Gasim Ibrahim, who link their private businesses with their political career.
“It will be good for the Maldivian political system if parties led by kleptocrats, power grabbers and Islamic zealots are marginalized and parties like the MDP and PPM dominate the political landscape. The MDP and PPM are political parties in the real sense of the term while others are not,” the MDP leader said.
He felt that the Jumhoory Party and the Adhaalth Party could be marginalized even in the existing parliament, if two things happen: if Gayoom gets the PPM back through the court, and if the 12 MPs who were sacked by Yameen are reinstated by the Supreme Court.
“And the first task will be to pass a Vote of No-Confidence against the Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed,” the MDP insider said.
Switching to Parliamentary System
The MDP is for the replacement of the Presidential form of government by the Westminster-style parliamentary form, while parties like Gasim’s JP and Yameen’s PPM may not want it as they believe in the efficacy of a strong Executive.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s commitment to a parliamentary form may also be doubtful given the fact that he had been a dictator for 30 years before he was forced to allow democracy in 2008.