The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party is gearing up for its first ever party Congress, to be held on the 15th December 2005. The Congress will elect the leadership of the MDP and a host of other positions.
Only the presidents of each local MDP branch (gofi) will be able to vote in Congress, however. A number of local party members have objected to this. We asked MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor to explain how Congress will operate and put to him some of the objections raised by party members.
MN: Could you explain why the MDP will only allow branch Presidents to vote in the party Congress?
HG: This is what is in the party constitution – a system whereby we create an electoral college. A lot of people in the party feel that this is not a very appropriate system for the Maldives but this is the model in the constitution. The initial idea of a cell, or branch, was to involve 20 people but our MPs and people who are studying this, they decided that it was going to be 100. So I think when the party expanded and a lot of people came into this process a lot of people are now saying that this is not the best option for us, considering the state of political awareness that we have at the grass roots level.
MN: Would you consider changing the election procedures for Congress or are you going to go ahead with the current system?
HG: This is on the cards. We are not rejecting the idea [of changing the voting procedures]. But at the moment the party is being run by a Caretaker Committee and the Caretaker Committee is not in a position to change the basic constitutional model of the party that has already been registered. We debated this at length and there are two problems.
Firstly, this is the model that is on paper and that has been registered [with the Elections Commission]. If you want to make an amendment to this, Congress is the body where that can be made. The second problem is the logistical problem. For example, if we propose an amendment to the Congress and the amendment gets passed where, instead of an electoral college, the position of party president is going to be elected directly by the members, the logistical nightmare of getting this done is quite considerable. How could we turn around and say during Congress: â€œhey, weâ€™re not going to elect like this, but like this other way,â€ when the election is due to be held that afternoon?
We need to get the party running â€“ the party President, Chairperson, administration elected before we can proceed with our political agenda. So what we decided was, because of the logistical nightmare and because the Caretaker Committee doesnâ€™t have the legitimacy to change something just like that, we will go as per the model that is in the party constitution, we will get our elections done and then we will propose amendments to the Congress. If the amendments are passed, we can change the voting rules for the next Congress.
MN: Another question that is often posed is whether the voting will be transparent; so will branch members know which way their president has voted during Congress?
HG: We are promoting the idea of internal democracy. We are asking branch presidents to ask their members who they should vote for. But, of course, the vote is a secret ballot at the Congress so you can never tell which way the branch president voted.
If you look at the branch rules, there is room for ten members in the branch out of one hundred members to move a motion of no confidence against the branch president. If the branch can get together and get a two thirds majority they can remove the president. But of course, there is no way of checking if the president voted the way the branch wanted them to during this Congress. This is an obvious weakness in the system from the point of view of people who are asking for direct elections instead of an electoral college.
MN: What type of voting method will be used at Congress?
HG: The rules of procedure in the party constitution does not specify the electoral process so we created a committee to look into this, study electoral processes and decide what is the best for us. At the moment, what the committee has decided is that we will go for a preferential voting system.
A preferential vote means that each branch president will register their choices [for president, vice-president etc.] first choice, second choice, third choice and so on. Through a process of elimination of the least popular candidates, we will get a candidate with an absolute majority [over 50%] of the votes. This is better than going for a first-past-the-post system, where with eight candidates someone with just 20% of the vote can win.
We are also obtaining the services of an independent election monitor from overseas. Their job will be to monitor the election and advise us. We thought that would be a good idea.
If you would like to pose questions to the MDP about their party Congress, why not write an open letter to Hamid Abdul Gafoor? Email: [email protected]