Running mate: Dr Hassan Saeed, leader of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP)
Gasim Ibrahim is a resort tycoon, MP and leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP). Gasim heads the Villa Group of companies, one of the largest private conglomerates in the Maldives, involved in the gas, shipping, aviation, airport, education, media and resort sectors. He is the owner of private broadcaster Villa TV (VTV) and newspaper Miadhu News, and is known for his philanthropic support of students and local entrepreneurs.
Gasim was head of the Special Majlis in charge of drafting the 2008 constitution and served as Finance Minister from 2005-2008 during the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, overseeing a tripling in expenditure on civil servant salaries and allowances to a point where the government employed almost 12 percent of the population.
This was, noted a 2010 internal World Bank report titled ‘Placing the Macro Challenge Facing the Maldives in Context’, “by far the highest increase in compensation over a three year period to government employees of any country in the world”.
An audit report of the majority state-owned Bank of Maldives subsequently revealed that Gasim’s Villa Group had been loaned MVR481,299,571 (US$37,601,520) as of October 31st 2008, representing 32.4 percent of the bank’s entire capital.
Gasim was at the time a non-executive board member of the bank as well as head of the Finance Ministry, which had a 51 percent veto over any board decision and the authority to appoint its managing director.
Until dismissed from the post in July 2013 he was also parliament’s representative on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body tasked with overseeing the appointment and disciplining of judges. Gasim initially disputed his dismissal challenging the perceived conflict of interest – the JSC had both created the Hulhumale Magistrate Court hearing criminal charges against rival presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, and appointed the three-member panel of judges to the case.
Initially appointed Home Minister during Nasheed’s administration, Gasim resigned 21 days into the new government.
Gasim’s JP is contesting the election in coalition with the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) – a small but vocal and litigious party notable for its controversial pamphleteering and vehement opposition to the former Nasheed administration.
The ‘Jumhoree Alliance’ also includes the outspoken and conservatively religious Adhaalath Party (AP), the members of which make up much of the ranks of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The AP favours a strict interpretation of Islam, full implementation of Sharia law (including Hadd punishments such as the removal of limbs, the death penalty and beheading), and has a record of attacking political opponents on religious grounds.
Gasim’s bid for presidency is also being backed by Umar Naseer, a former policeman who led and agitated numerous street protests against Nasheed’s administration. He defected from his own Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) in 2010, joining the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) and pushing for a party primary. However the party failed to implement primaries during that year and Naseer went on to clash with the party’s anointed leader, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, eventually leading to his dismissal, the splintering of the party and the subsequent formation of the PPM.
In 2013 Naseer contested the PPM primaries against Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen, but was defeated. Naseer alleged the primaries were rigged in Yameen’s favour and was eventually evicted from the party. He subsequently aligned himself with Gasim’s JP.
Many of Gasim’s campaign promises have been localised to the places he has campaigned, such as promises to build school computer labs, sportsgrounds etc.
Gasim has publicly backed oil exploration and drilling in the Maldives, stating that this would be among his government’s first priorities and that it was “baseless and irrational” to suggest such drilling would harm the tourism sector.
He has also launched a ‘Religion and Nationalism’ policy pledging to strengthen Islam in the Maldives, including the establishment of an Islamic University, introduce Arabic as a teaching medium, strengthen relations and donor ties with other Islamic nations, and making the Quran a mandatory school subject.
His party has pledged a ‘holistic’ approach to taxation, promising to introduce income and capital gains tax, and increase taxation of the wealthy. This would include reducing the 60-70 percent of national income devoted to recurrent expenditure to 40 percent, by investing in local infrastructure and raising revenue through the private sector. The party has said Gasim’s government would curb state borrowing, while at the same time reducing state reliance on treasury bills by seeking “low interest” development loans. The party has not declared whether it would cut civil service spending.
Gasim has also pledged to provide a laptop for every student in the country.
Analysis of support base
Gasim enjoys strong support in and around his home constituency of Maamagili and among his 6000 employees across the Maldives, and reaches many more through his own private media network. Though lacking the raw membership numbers of the MDP and PPM, with the resources and vessels at Villa Group’s disposal he been able to campaign extensively and bring large numbers to his rallies.
Though a minister in Gayoom’s cabinet he sided with Nasheed’s MDP in the second round of the 2008 election, putting him at odds with the 30 year autocrat and his loyal supporters. He has reportedly been endorsed by Gayoom’s brother-in-law Ilyas Ibrahim, a senior minister under Gayoom’s government and longstanding rival of Gayoom’s half-brother, PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.
Gasim’s extensive provision of scholarships, medical treatment, jobs, sports equipment and small business loans to many Maldivians on a philanthropic basis makes the full extent of his support base difficult to calculate. In the first round of the 2008 presidential election Gasim received 27,056 votes, 15.22 percent of the total count. He backed the MDP as a coalition partner in the second round.
The Adhaalath Party, whilst playing a vocally active role in Maldivian politics, has as yet failed to turn this into success at the polling booth. After making little impact in the 2008 presidential election, the party received less than one percent of the vote in the following year’s parliamentary poll.
Gasim’s coalition is considered a contender for second place in the first round of the election, vying with the PPM, and a potential winner should the election carry through to a second round and he successfully negotiate a coalition power-sharing arrangement with the PPM.
Registered party members (as of March 2013)
JP – 12,154
DQP – 1967
AP – 10,562
Parliament seats (as of August 2013)
JP – 6 (of 77)
DQP – 1 (of 77)
AP- 0 (of 77)
Candidate/party has not yet responded to submitted questions.