Votes on Male are divided for Saturday’s presidential election, however ‘Nasheed’ and ‘Yameen’ are the two names on people’s minds as they look forward to a resolution of the 18-month campaign season.
Forty-eight year-old shop owner Ahmed asserts that former president and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed, and Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen, are the two most likely winners of Saturday’s election, but believes that the final decision will be made in a second round.
“The candidates are equal right now,” he said, suggesting that Yameen and Jumhoree Party candidate Gasim Ibrahim had conducted the most effective campaigns “because they have the money… to spend on traveling to the islands.”
To the Maldives’ 350,000 citizens, the four presidential candidates’ personal and political histories are familiar tales. For one middle-aged man surveyed on Majeedhee Magu, the present campaign cannot undo past experiences.
“Anni’s [Nasheed] campaign is most effective, he is good for campaigning but not for the presidency,” he said. He firmly believes that the MDP executed the most effective campaign, but feels that Nasheed’s actions during his presidency have lost him the vote to PPM’s Yameen.
“We have seen 30 years [under PPM president and former president Maumoon Gayoom, Yameen’s half brother]. And then we saw Nasheed’s three years. In these last three years we didn’t see development,” he said. “Giving my mom MVR 2,000 (US$130) is not development. Giving insurance to buy Panadol pills for my mom is not development either. I do believe Nasheed is the one who can bring the development we desire, but the way his Aasandha [health insurance] program and other policies are organised is not helping the most needy.”
The man explained that his request for then-president Nasheed’s help for his dying 18-year-old son elicited only a letter from the party stating that “the Attorney General has instructed them not to spend on anything beside state expenses.”
Across town, 49-year-old Asfari anticipates a 70 percent win for Nasheed in the first round, but allows that Yameen was the likely runner up. “He is the second-best man to be president,” she said.
For some, familiarity generates confidence; for others, apathy.
“Politics gives me a headache,” declared a middle-aged female shop owner.
Some youth surveyed were similarly apathetic.
“In my thinking there is no candidate that is suitable for the election,” said Naushad, age 22, adding that alienation of the young generation was a key factor. “Politics will destroy the country, 100 percent.”
Twenty-three year-old voter Ahamed said the campaigns “were really good, but some of them have been using money and buying people’s vote.”
Although he intends to vote, he expressed frustration with the way that voters we reacting towards free handouts.
“Most of the people just take it. If they’re given money, they don’t see the disadvantages of it… but the campaign will affect the votes, obviously. Some will even feel guilty when they vote.”
Ahamed pointed out that party manifestos have become another means of buying votes.
“One of my friends is voting just because one candidate promised to give a salary to all the national chess players,” he explained.
Of surveyed youth who said they will vote, most self-identified as MDP supporters who anticipated a sweeping win on Saturday.
Rhombus employee Ibrahim, age 23, expects MDP “will win 100 percent”. In a nearby shop Ahmed Ibrahim, age 19, declared “this is the young generation voting for Anni [Nasheed].”
Ahmed works on a safari boat that was recently chartered for President Waheed’s campaign tour in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll. He said he is tired of “chaos and fighting” and that if Nasheed is elected “everything will go back to normal and the Maldives will [progress].”
While many youth surveyed cited general hopes for calm and progress, a few highlighted the importance of a manifesto.
“I wouldn’t vote if there wasn’t a manifesto,” said Ahamed, noting that MDP’s manifesto was a “very different, good and cost-effective manifesto.”
Shauna Rashid, age 18, said that as a student she sides with MDP for its position on education.
Peaceful polls, but “we had a coup”
Security preparations for the election have been a concern since the February 2012, when forces clashed with protesting citizens over the change in government.
With the security forces on red alert all week, Male residents surveyed expect a peaceful election but were hesitant offer predictions beyond close of polls.
Several people, ages 20-50, said they expect the roads to be crowded with excited voters and are wary of possible trouble.
Naushad and Ahmed Ibrahim expect Male’ to be calm on Saturday. “But after the election something will happen,” Naushad surmised.
“There are a lot of concerns because we had a coup, so there is a possibility that there will be a fight,” Shafa said.
Others dismissed concerns of violence. “It will be normal,” said shop-owner Ahmed.
A Commonwealth-appointed security expert will oversee security activities this weekend.
Some observed that rainy forecasts may temper election enthusiasm- forecasts show a 40-60 percent chance of rain through Sunday.
Race to the finish line
Candidates are squeezing Male’ for votes prior to Friday’s 6:00pm campaigning deadline. Party camps were partially closed on Thursday while candidates and volunteers conducted door-to-door campaigns, representatives said. All parties will be holding rallies between Thursday evening and Friday afternoon; MDP, JP and GIP will hold marches on Friday afternoon.
MDP and GIP alleged that they are targeting all demographics, although JP hopes for a strong turnout from the elderly in response to the party’s welfare proposal. PPM and JP representatives were unavailable for comment.
Party representatives interviewed all said they are hoping to reach the winning minimum 51 percent vote on Saturday; one ambitious MDP activist said they anticipated more than 80 percent.