Presidential Standoff

The leadership of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) wants the Speaker of the People’s Majlis and former president Mohamed Nasheed to back down and start supporting the incumbent president for the presidential elections due in September this year.

By Sajad Jatoi | March 2023

The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, will go to presidential elections in September this year. However, the race to the presidential palace has already begun. On January 28, 2023, the elections for the presidential primary of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were held, in which the incumbent President of Maldives Ibrahim Mohamed Solih emerged victorious. However, the results have become controversial as his rival candidate Mohamed Nasheed alleges that the elections have been rigged.

Nasheed had been thinking of contesting the presidential elections and hoping to become the president of the archipelago nation once more. But the results have come as a blow to him. So, he has refused to accept the electoral outcome as fair and has alleged electoral fraud. He has made it clear that he is not going to accept Solih as the winner of the presidential primary.

Late on the day of presidential primary voting, Nasheed’s campaign issued a statement, saying, “We are noticing that Nasheed is ahead in most of the ballot boxes, and his opponent is leading because of a few boxes where an extraordinary amount of votes have been cast.” Nasheed by himself complained that in many ballot boxes, the number of votes were more than the amount listed on the result sheet.

Even well before the elections, he had expressed his concerns about “free and fair elections.” In a tweet on December 21, 2022, he had written, “MDP is about free and fair elections. Integral to this is a pre-decided voter list. But President Solih has expelled over 39k members from the MDP in the past year. While the list needed cleaning up, he has removed all the original party members less likely to vote for him.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party that has been in power, revealing the results of presidential primary said that Solih got 61 per cent votes, and thus won the elections. Whereas his rival Mohamed Nasheed got mere 38 per cent votes. Also, talking about the complaints about elections, the party’s election committee said that they didn’t find any irregularities. However, Nasheed is determined not to change his stance. With this standoff, the Maldivian nation may descend into chaos never seen before.

Writing about the contentious result of presidential primary, Mohamed Junayd, a journalist based in the Maldives, wrote in his co-authored article for Al Jazeera, “Enmity between the two has raised concerns of new turmoil in the popular Indian Ocean tourist destination.”

Nasheed has multiple options at his disposal. He can either break ranks with the Maldivian Democratic Party to form a new political party or to run elections as an independent candidate; or he can give in and support MDP to leverage some favours from Mohamed Solih, which is highly unlikely given the rivalry that has been going on between him and Solih over the last few years.

At the moment when these lines are written, Mohamed Nasheed has not taken a clear position yet. That what will be his next move is still shrouded in secrecy. But there is a popular opinion in the Maldives that he will break ranks with the MDP and form another branch of the party.

To have a better understanding of the current deadlock, it will be worthwhile to shed some light on Mohamed Nasheed’s career in politics.

Nasheed has been a popular leader in the Maldives because of his long struggle for multiparty democracy in the country. In 1990, he was one of the founders of Sangu, a magazine which paid close attention to the political class and scrutinised it. The government of that time banned it within a year and sent Mohamed Nasheed to jail for the first of many times. In 1991, the Amnesty International had declared him ‘prisoner of conscience’. In addition, Nasheed was jailed multiple times for his struggle for democratic rule in the country.

Nasheed was the person who pushed for multiparty democratic elections. Ultimately, his struggle bore fruition and first democratic elections were held in 2008. He emerged victorious and became the first democratically elected president of the country, thereby putting an end to the 30 year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was infamous for his repressive and undemocratic methods.

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