Minister of Tourism, Arts and Culture Ahmed Adheeb Ghafoor has claimed that the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has the “maturity” to hold competitive internal elections without divisive splits among its members.
Internal elections for the PPM’s senior posts are due to take place at its long-delayed national congress scheduled between January 17 to January 19, 2013. The congress will then be followed by primaries to decide who will stand as the party’s presidential candidate during general elections expected next year.
Adheeb, who is one of three candidates contesting for two vice president roles in the PPM, said that the party – unlike some of its political rivals both within government and opposition – was capable of demonstrating a “strong” and “competitive” internal democracy that also allowed younger people like himself to stand for key positions.
His comments were made as PPM MP and Parliamentary Group Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed alleged that the party has pressured him to stop standing as a third candidate for the two vice presidential roles. Two other fellow candidates contesting for the position withdrew their names last week.
Ilham has claimed PPM figures were attempting to prevent him from contesting for the party’s vice president seat to ensure only two candidates – Adheeb and MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla – remained in contention.
“It’s really sad that the party’s senior members are orchestrating an attempt to get rid of me,” Ilham was quoted as telling local newspaper Haveeru on Saturday (December 29).
Earlier this month, the PPM unveiled the candidates for several of its key senior posts with interim leader and figurehead, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom the only candidate for party president. However, a number of candidates were announced to be standing for two available deputy leader posts in the party.
These candidates at the time included MP Ahmed Nihan, Hussain Manik, MP Ilham Ahmed, MP Moosa Zameer, MP Ahmed Mahloof, MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, Tourism Minister Adheeb and former MP ‘Jausar’ Jaufar Easa Adam.
However, following the decision this week of MPs Mahloof and Nihan to withdraw from the race and lend support to Adheeb and MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla, only three people are now scheduled to contest for the PPM’s vice president roles.
“I’m getting calls from all over asking me not to withdraw my name. Many are also condemning Mahloof and Nihan for the decision to withdraw their names. I believe that their decision is politically very strange,” Ilham told the Haveeru newspaper. “When the number of candidates is down to three, pledging support for just two is like pointing the finger at me and asking the members not to vote for me. I wouldn’t have had any problems if they decided to back just one candidate.”
PPM MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Ahmed Nihan were not responding to calls at time of press, whist Minivan News was awaiting a response from fellow MP Ilham.
However, Tourism Minister Adheeb has rejected any accusation that the PPM was attempting to reduce the number of candidates standing for party vice president. Adheeb claimed that he did not believe “anything was going on” in terms of senior PPM figures trying to influence the outcome of the upcoming primaries.
“I was surprised that the two MPs – [Mahloof and Nihan] – took their names out [of the contest] especially when they endorsed two other candidates in the election,” he said.
“However, my stand remains that I am standing for principals. I am currently in a political position and believe I can bring something to the second largest party [in terms of membership] in the country.”
With three competitors presently standing for the two vice president roles in the PPM, Adheeb said he believed there was room in the party for competition.
Ahead of the vote, Adheeb claimed that his relative youth and experience both as tourism Minister and the former head of the Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) would allow for different thinking within the party.
“With former President Gayoom’s experience of running the country, I think we would have a good partnership that would give more value to PPM,” he claimed.
Adheeb said that if he was able to win a vice president role within the PPM, he aimed to continue to advocate for what he called centre-right, business friendly positions, explaining his belief that political reforms made over the last decade had taken attention in the country away from “economic freedoms”.
The tourism minister said he would therefore pledge to pursue “neo-classical economic policies” that promoted, among other factors, a reduced role from government in shaping national finance policies.
The previous administration of Mohamed Nasheed had sought to introduce a number of reforms in taxation, notably in the introduction of a General Goods and Services tax and a Tourism Goods and Services Tax (TGST) over the last two years.
With his policies outlined for the upcoming vice presidential election, Adheeb claimed that he intended to see out the three candidate race and rejected the possibility of negative campaigning during the party’s internal elections.
“I would like to wish both Ilham Ahmed and Abdul Raheem Abdulla the best of luck,” he claimed.
Speaking to Minivan News last week, Dr Abdulla Mausoom, Deputy Leader of the fellow government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) claimed that the Maldives’ young democratic culture was at present too partisan for relying on US-style primary elections to decide on presidential candidates and other senior party roles.
Mausoom contended that there was a pattern of behaviour in the Maldives among candidates defeated in both parliamentary and council elections to contest independently – at times proving detrimental to their one-time party owing to a possible split within the voter base.
“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.
“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,” Mausoom added.
“Primaries an essential and fundamental aspect of democracy”: MDP
Responding at the time, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor MP and Spokesperson for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) dismissed the notion that the Maldivian public 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.
He added that the sentiments expressed by Dr Mausoom reflected the DRP’s founding by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 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 [Mausoom] 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 opted to form the PPM following a public war of words with Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, his successor as head of the DRP.