Just a day after resigning from the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), MP Ali Waheed was last night welcomed to the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) by President Mohamed Nasheed, who claimed Waheed’s decision had handed the party a parliamentary majority and the capability to push ahead with proposed reforms.
Waheed, a former DRP deputy leader, yesterday signed up the party alongside Ahmed Assad ‘Adubarey’ and DRP Sports Wing Head, Hassan Shujau.
A senior MDP source told Minivan News that additional members of the party were talking with the MDP about signing, but were reluctant to abandon the troubled party in such a large group.
The opposition figures followed in the wake of former opposition MP Alhan Fahmy in an exodus to the other side of the country’s political divide.
DRP MPs including Ahmed Nihan, currently working closely alongside the Z-DRP faction of the opposition critical of party leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, claimed that the MPs were switching sides solely for financial payoffs, though an MDP official insisted no such transactions had taken place.
However, dismissed DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer has submitted a case to the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) accusing the MDP of bribing opposition MPs to join the party.
Speaking during the rally held at Male’s artificial beach last night, Waheed reportedly accepted that he had criticised the president and the MDP in the past, but said that he now stood with them nonetheless.
“I was one of the strongest critics of President Nasheed,” he was reported as saying in newspaper Haveeru. “But I am right here at this podium; being able to criticise everyone is one of the fundamental aspects of democracy.”
Addressing the crowds afterwards, President Nasheed reportedly said that Ali Waheed would be welcomed to the party and could potentially take a senior position within the party following his switch.
Nasheed talked of the significance of having a political majority for the MDP and claimed that the party’s influence on parliament would need to be used responsibly and with respect to others in the Majlis.
Waheed along with DRP spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef and opposition leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali were unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News this morning.
Shareef has previously acknowledged that Waheed had served as a rising star in the DRP, and his loss would be a “great blow”.
Changing political landscape
The recent election of another former opposition MP – Alhan Fahmy – to the deputy leadership of the ruling party may be a key factor in luring ambitious MPs from the troubled opposition. However if rumours of money changing hands proved true, several MDP members have privately expressed concern that this risked unsettling grassroots members loyal to the ruling party from the beginning.
Further discontent is likely on the islands among those constituents who voted for a party, rather than the MP.
The MDP also risks importing potential skeletons into the party along with the MP, such as the case with former Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Hassan Adhil who is currently under house arrest and facing charges of child molestation.
Furthermore, the departure of MPs loyal to Thasmeen’s faction will place further pressure on the more prosaic side of the opposition, limiting its ability to resist the leadership ambitions of Gayoom’s far less compromising ‘Z-Faction’ and risks greater destabilisation of the opposition.
The MDP has however struggled to pass legislation in the opposition-majority parliament, and is fervently seeking to tip the balance in its favour and gain control of the legislature to push through difficult bills such as the revised penal code, evidence bill, and income tax for people earning over Rf30,000.
Taking control of parliament is a major victory for both the MDP and the government, and potentially marks the end of the ‘scorched earth’ politics in the Majlis that led to the en-masse resignation of cabinet ministers in July last year.
While the Maldives has a presidential system of government on paper, the constitution hands significant powers to parliament – particularly oversight of independent institutions. Control of the voting floor gives the MDP levers with which to address the challenges facing the judiciary and independent institutions in the country.