“We want every existing member to recruit one more member,” the party’s parliamentary group leader, Ibrahim Solih, told Minivan News.
The launch of the campaign signaled that the party was gearing up for the 2013 Presidential Campaign, he acknowledged. Two officials from the UK Conservative Party had recently visited the Maldives to offer advice in the running of the campaign, he said.
MDP MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik told local media that the party would try to reach 50,000 members by January, and said that the information gathered during the door-to-door campaign would help the party prepare for the 2013 election.
“We’ll re-visit every island, every house in the Maldives within the coming two months,” Moosa said.
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s new party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), has meanwhile claimed to have more than doubled its membership in recent months from 9,000 to 20,000 members.
After months of factional strife and a litany of grievances aired in the media, Gayoom withdrew his endorsement of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali in March this year, accusing his successor of “acting dictatorially” and violating the party’s charter in the controversial dismissal of Deputy Leader Umar Naseer.
The formation of the PPM as distinct from the larger opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) will split the opposition vote, making MDP unlikely to be threatened in the first round of the presidential election. However the party needs to achieve 51 percent of the vote to avoid a run-off, which would likely see MDP standing alone against a hastily-formed alliance of opposition parties and embittered former coalition partners such as the Jumhoree and Adhaalath parties.
DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef observed to Minivan News in October that “given current trends”, the 2013 presidential election had the potential to be a replay of the 2008 election in which Nasheed won power in a run-off election against the incumbent Gayoom, due to the (short-term) support of coalition partners.
Faced with a run-off, the disparate opposition groups would temporarily unify over the common ground of ousting the MDP, Shareef predicted, giving power to the largest opposition party.
“Look at the last three elections. In the first round of the 2008 Presidential election Gayoom got 40 percent, while the rest of the then opposition got 60 percent. In the second round the opposition totaled 54 percent. The MDP lost ground in the parliamentary elections, and the majority of the islands voted for the DRP in the local council elections,” he claimed.
“The incumbent government has the resources of the state to get votes, and can get at least 20-30 percent just by being in power. At present trends, 2013 will be a replay of 2008, and as things stand now, whoever is in opposition will go to the second round.”
To avoid a close fight in the second round, the MDP faces the challenge of attracting enough supporters to the polls in the first round to reach the 51 percent needed for an outright win.
This may mean appealing to the youth as much as the established membership base. The UN’s population report this year indicated that 40 percent of the population are aged 15-24, meaning a large number of young people are becoming eligible to vote every year.
Young people were a core demographic for the MDP in the 2008 presidential election, but since then there has been an anecdotal trend of growing political disenfranchisement, spreading distaste for the ‘he said, she said, go-nowhere’ flavour of Maldivian politics, and frustration at ongoing social issues such as high youth unemployment and lack of educational opportunities.
As such, the MDP’s key opponent in 2013 is as likely to be voter apathy as it is any opposition party.