Whether it was reverence for the wishes of former leader Gayoom, or whether it was a lack of respect for democracy, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s decision not to hold a competitive election to choose their new leader is a fatal mistake. Lacking a clear democratic mandate leaves Thasmeen’s leadership stillborn.
Gayoom anointed Thasmeen as his successor to lead the main opposition party the day he announced his retirement from active politics. Thasmeen was sworn in as leader of the DRP last week, at the party’s congress. No other party member stood against him.
Thasmeen is no doubt pleased he didn’t have to go through the hassle and uncertainty of an election to become the country’s main opposition leader. But he will be forever hampered by his democratic shortfall.
Thasmeen’s democratic deficit means that people will constantly question his authority. After all, what leverage does an unelected leader have? What legitimacy does he have to impose his will upon other party members? Why should party members follow his orders?
The new leader’s legitimacy problem is compounded by the fact that the DRP congress also decided that the party leader will automatically become the party’s candidate in the 2013 presidential elections. Overruling Umar Naseer and Aneesa Ahmed’s proposal to hold primaries, 841 delegates out of 882 attendees voted for the proposal by the party council to make the DRP leader its presidential candidate.
This decision will have incensed many members of the opposition. Umar Naseer might have magnanimously declared after winning the vice presidency that he was giving up the idea of presidential primaries for the sake of unity, but he may well change his mind as the 2013 presidential elections near, particularly if Thasmeen is judged to have been a weak leader. As the presidential election date draws closer, expect more members than Umar to clamour for party primaries.
Younger politicians will not only grumble about Thasmeen democratic deficit, they will be disillusioned as well. After all, what future do they have in a party where the top job is decided not by democracy but by a political fix between party grandees in Alivaage?
And of course, there is the issue of Gayoom himself. Gayoom crowned Thasmeen instead of another would-be successor, Yameen. Instead of being a respected leader on his own right, Gayoom therefore owns Thasmeen. He is the kingmaker, and though Thasmeen is the default leader, it will be Gayoom who will yield the power behind the throne.
Those who reject my line of argument need only to look to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. When Tony Blair quit office in 2007, Gordon Brown became Prime Minister uncontested because nobody in the ruling Labour Party stood against him for top job. But the new Prime Minister’s lack of a democratic mandate started to undo his premiership within weeks.
Brown’s tenure in office has been bedeviled by plots, schemes and coup attempts emanating from within his own party. There have no fewer than four attempts to get rid of Brown’s since he took office – some of the plots were led by his closest former allies. If Thasmeen is interested to know how he will fare as the new king of the DRP, he need look no further than 10 Downing Street.
Nothing gives a leader greater legitimacy than a clear democratic mandate. President Nasheed – who won a clear mandate from the people in competitive elections widely deemed free and fair – is secure in his job. Even those who dislike Nasheed’s policies or personality, nevertheless respect the process through which he was elected.
Thasmeen, on the other hand, will be considered fair game by anyone in the opposition who feels they could do a better job. Plots to overthrow him, actions to undermine his leadership and backbiting comments designed to damage him will likely become commonplace.
Few in DRP will respect Thasmeen – crowned without proper election, without competition and without debate. The DRP’s disdain for democracy has torpedoed Thasmeen’s presidency before it has even begun. You can almost hear his rivals sharpening their political knives.
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