Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom has claimed that the Maldives’ young democracy remains too partisan for the use of US-style primary elections to decide on presidential candidates.
Dr Mausoom’s remarks were made as key figures within former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have this month begun campaigning for its upcoming presidential primaries.
“Maldivians are not ready to accept defeats in internal primary elections. Even at presidential level, parliamentary level and council level, we are seeing that if [a person] loses in a primary, they contest the national election as an independent to prove the party members were wrong in deciding party candidate,” he said.
Mausoom took the example of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP’s) presidential primaries in 2007, where he claimed some unsuccessful candidates left the party due to perceived dissatisfaction at not winning.
He claimed there was too much partisan thinking among candidates during previous primary votes since the country’s first democratic presidential elections in 2008.
Mausoom contended that there was a pattern of behaviour among candidates defeated in both parliamentary and council elections to contest independently – at times proving detrimental to their one-time party’s success through the possibility of a split in votes.
Mausoom accused Maldivian political figures of generally treating defeats in primaries as a “humiliation” due to the nature of the young democracy.
“In the 2008 United States presidential primaries, we saw Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama fiercely contesting for the Democratic Party’s presidential ticket. At the end, Obama won and Clinton backed him. That spirit of partisanship has not been seen here in Maldives,” he claimed.
Mausoom said that once the DRP believed that the people were prepared to face primaries, the party would begin advocating for such a vote, maintaining that every party had its own internal policies for picking a presidential candidate.
He also stated that the country’s political culture was significantly dependent on personality politics rather than party politics. However, Mausoom said that the trend would begin to change in the years to come and the upcoming 2013 presidential election would be a test to determine how local political culture had developed.
“The Maldives is a very small country. So we do not have many diverse issues like religion, identity and other issues which are common in large democracies. So the policies and principles that political parties follow are very similar. Each party would have a very strong view towards religion, economy and other major issues. So the real test is how the promises are delivered,” he explained.
However, Mausoom maintained that the DRP was set to implement a plan that he claimed would allow voters to realise his party was the solution after the release of its manifesto for the 2013 presidential elections.
Asked about the much speculated presidential primaries ofthe PPM, Mausoom said that he did not wish to comment on the primaries but his party was looking forward to the outcome of PPM’s congress scheduled to be held in next January.
“We are looking forward to [PPM Congress]. The congress would really define who would really lead their presidential campaign in 2013 elections. It will give us a very clear picture,” he reckoned.
Party Primaries, a fundamental aspect of democracy: MDP
MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor disagreed with Mausoom’s views on presidential primaries, dismissing the notion that the people were not “prepared” for internal elections.
“We believe that party primaries are an essential and fundamental aspect of democracy. The MDP has shaped up a good model in holding party primaries where all the elected officials generally should face a party primary before seeking re-election. Even I would have to face primaries before I could run for re-election to parliament,” he claimed.
According to Ghafoor, it was the MDP that introduced the mechanism of primaries into local party politics, a decision he believed had forced its rivals to reluctantly follow.
Responding to Mausoom’s claims that there were divisions following the party’s first presidential primaries in 2007, Ghafoor said that he believed it was a positive sign and that in all democracies, primaries would at times result in rifts.
“But that is what we see as refreshing the whole party. To work in a democracy, one must embrace change. You cannot work in a democracy if you fear change and change is inevitable because democracy does not stand still, it is a system where change is always taking place. Only a dictatorship will remain unchanged,” he said.
He further added that the sentiments expressed by DRP parliamentary group leader reflected the party’s founding by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s, who oversaw thirty years of autocratic rule that ended following the elections in 2008.
Ghafoor claimed that the DRP was still trying to cope with the changes bought about four years ago.
“I believe he and others who talk like that are talking for self-interest. They built their party on shaky grounds, and for them it is very difficult to keep up with us in terms of internal democracy within the party. We can understand that,” Ghafoor added.
Former President Gayoom later formed the PPM following a public war of words with Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, his successor as head of the DRP.
PPM Presidential Primaries
Although the PPM is yet to officially confirm a date for its primaries, two senior party figures – Interim Vice President of PPM Umar Naseer and its Parliamentary Group Leader Abdulla Yameen– have announced their intention to compete for the party’s ticket for presidential elections.
Yameen, half brother of former President Gayoom, told Minivan News earlier this week that “youth” and the “economy” were to be the key focuses of his campaign to stand as presidential candidate for his party in general elections scheduled for next year.
Meanwhile, Umar Naseer has been quoted in the local media claiming that some 250 volunteers signed up for his campaign.
“Last night, I actually didn’t inform my full support base. Last night we only carried out the process of recruiting volunteers, identifying what they can do, signing and filling of cards,” he was quoted as saying.
Local media also reported Umar as opting to use a “palm logo” previously adopted by former President Gayoom – interim PPM President – for his campaigning.
“Even if the palm did not win back then, Insha Allah this time it will,” he was reported to have told Haveeru.
Despite MP Yameen and Umar Naseer being the only two candidates who have publicly announced their interest, other key figures have yet to rule themselves out of the running. notable amongst these figures is former president Gayoom himself, who told Indian newspaper The Hindu on December 11 that he may consider contesting in a presidential election presently expected to be held in August or September next year.
“Things change very frequently. So I am keeping my options open,” Gayoom was quoted as saying. “[If I run] it won’t be out of my choice, if ever, it will be out of compulsion. Because I feel I have served the country for 30 years and I feel it is up to other people [now].”
Speaking to local media at the time, Umar Naseer said that Gayoom had the right to contest for re-election in the next presidential elections – a decision he believed would make the country’s former autocratic ruler the “obvious top candidate” to finish the race.
“I would definitely back Gayoom if he is to contest the elections. He is our ‘ace of spades’. You cannot say that the ace of spades is not the ace of spades,” he said.
Umar Naseer was not responding to calls at time of press.