Even as the rest of the world – and Maldivians too – had almost given up the country as being on the brink of a political and leadership chaos, it has bounced back with the kind of verve and nerve that democracy entails at birth. The three presidential candidates met in what was not an entirely unexpected turn, and declared their intention to try and complete the poll process in time for an elected president to assume office on 11 November, the D-day under the constitutional scheme and national tradition.
Meeting on Sunday night, former President Mohammed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and his rivals, Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party (JP), unanimously decided to approach the Election Commission (EC) for advancing the poll-dates. If their combined effort next morning when the met the EC officials did not fructify, it owed to the existing electoral scheme – or, so it would seem.
As may be recalled, the EC had fixed 9 November for the first-round and 16 November for the second-round of the once-annulled and once-cancelled polls. The tradition under the continuing constitutional scheme for decades now has been for the elected president to assume office on 11 November. With the second-round of polls, if required for the victor to possess the mandated 50-percent vote-support, scheduled for 16 November, questions have begun to be asked from the highest levels on the possibilities of an emerging constitutional vacuum.
In their meeting, the three candidates claimed to have worked out a scheme for verification of the voters’ list individually. Whatever that may be, they seemed desirous to let nothing – including the possibly an allegedly faulty voter-list – come in the way of completing the poll process. Claims of ‘faulty voter-list’ were among the causes for presidential polls, originally scheduled for 7 and 28 September, getting inordinately and at times inadvertently delayed.
During their meeting on Sunday night, the three candidates decided to urge the EC to advance the first round to 2 November and the second round, if needed, to 9 November. Clearly, they wanted the poll process to be completed in time for the elected one from among them to assume office on 11 November. None of them wanted a constitutional vacuum to emerge in the country during its democratic infancy, particularly after incumbent President Mohammed Waheed expressed a desire to step aside before the deadline for transition.
Going by local media reports, the three candidates meeting the waiting media together after their talks with EC officials, did not elaborate on the EC’s reasons for not being able to conduct the polls. While drafting earlier poll-schedules, the EC had provided the required 21 days for completing the administrative work, comprising re-registration of new voters and those wanting to vote in a booth other than originally assigned. The latter in particular should have thrown up problems while advancing the poll after re-registration had been set in motion.
Under the law, any Maldivian citizen attaining 18 years of age on the day of (first-round) polling are entitled to register their names as voters. After the EC had fixed 9 November as the day for first-round polling and opened re-registration, advancing the poll dates would have been fraught with complications that the constitution’s framers did not foresee, and hence did not provide for. Nor did the 4-3 verdict of the Supreme Court that annulled the 7 September poll and setting out a 16-point guideline for re-poll provide for.
With all sections of parliament involved in the three-candidate negotiations, getting an emergency constitutional amendment Bill through the People’s Majlis would have been a formality. Outgoing President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, who readily endorsed the three-candidate decision, may have also given his assent to such a constitutional amendment. Should any citizen affected by the measure go to the court, however, the process by itself would have been time-consuming, defeating the very purpose of the poll-advancement idea.
‘No’ to military rule
The three-candidate meeting and their meaningful proposal has brought back political pragmatism to the nation’s centre-table, where electoral expediency and excesses alone seemed to rule for a time. President Waheed, who had not very long ago dubbed himself the ‘most hated person’ for the international community and media, set the ball rolling instead, by sounding out the possibility of his resigning from office along with his entire Cabinet, including Vice-President Waheed Deen, for Parliament Speaker, Abdulla Shahid, to take over for a 60-day election-period, as per the Constitution. He followed it up with a letter to Parliament
With the MDP’s Nasheed having won the highest 45.45 percent vote-share in the annulled first-round, the party-led alliance jumped at President Waheed’s proposal. It got the house to pass a resolution on those lines. This is to be followed by a formal bill on the same subject in the coming days, it is said. However, such a course would require a constitutional amendment. The non-MDP alliance parties had boycotted the earlier vote on the resolution. They can be expected to boycott the vote on the upcoming Bill, also, should the MDP still go ahead with the proposal after the three-candidate confabulation.
To the extent the three candidates, their parties and coalitions have been able to distinguish between political realities, electoral exigencies and constitutional compulsions, the nation has been brought back from the brink. Likewise, the Jumhooree Coalition’s Hassan Saeed, vice-presidential running-mate to Gasim Ibrahim, has shot down the proposition of a possible term of ‘military rule’ post 11/11, if the first-round poll of 9 November does not produce a president-elect. The coalition was not considering the option, Saeed said a day after JP parliamentary group leader, Ilham Ahmed, had proposed the same in the house on Sunday.
Air of permissiveness
The JP – and other political outfits – may be in for a time of introspection, if not explanation, a vandal attacked the Indian High Commissioner’s car outside of the diplomatic mission. The car’s wind-screen was damaged, but fortunately, no one was inside the vehicle at the time. Earlier in the day, JP’s mouth-piece, Miadhu, quoted party Secretary-General Hussein Shah as saying that “a foreign Ambassador (had) requested (party founder and presidential candidate Gasim) not to go to court even if there is any vote-manipulations”.
The police are investigating the car-attack. In diplomatic terms, the attack means more for bilateral relations than may be visible and acceptable. Shah’s unsubstantiated claims and the attack on the Indian envoy’s car may have been independent episodes, but both are also reflective of an ‘air of permissiveness’ that has permeated down the democratic political culture in the country. On an earlier occasion, a senior aide of President Waheed attacked the then Indian High Commissioner by name. He was shifted out to a different position, which was considered an elevation, not a punishment, of sorts.
Needless to point out that the President’s Office, Parliament, the police and armed forces headquarters are all within a stone’s throw of the Indian High Commission. The stone that fell on the Indian side could very well have fallen on the other side, too. It only goes on to indicate the precarious nature of the nation’s politics and politics-driven people’s posturing just now. It comes a year and half after the prevailing mood and methods of this kind culminated in the controversial resignation of President Nasheed on 7 February 2012. Each party and politician continues to have a different take and cause for the events, versions and justifications of that day – all of them contributing to the current confusion and consequent impasse.