The path towards 2013’s general election is unclear for the Maldives’ political opposition according to the People’s Alliance (PA) party, despite last weekend’s local council elections serving as an “encouraging” guideline for how they could fare during national polling.
PA Secretary General Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that in light of the performance of opposition parties, particularly the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) in securing the majority of island councils around the country, the manner in which they would come together to try and hold the government accountable was far from certain.
Shareef said a formal coalition between four or more of the country’s opposition parties was one possible option, but added that this remained far from a certainty in the current political climate.
The claims come amidst reports of further political infighting within the DRP, the country’s main opposition party, as factions supporting current leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and dismissed former Deputy Leader Umar Naseer vie for control of the party.
The disputes led yesterday to protests outside the DRP headquarters by a crowd calling for Thasmeen’s resignation, followed by his announcement of the signing of a second coalition agreement with the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). The PA and DRP already maintain a coalition and together own a parliamentary majority.
Although not wishing to comment on the reported disputes between factions in the DRP itself due to allegations of the involvement of the PA in instigating them, Shareef added that party did not currently believe that the DQP’s coalition with the DRP would affect its own coalition agreement leading up to 2013’s race for the presidency.
“I don’t think the coalition with the DQP will affect our position with the DRP yet,” he said. “If the DRP, DQP, PA and JP came into a formal coalition than that would be provide strength for the opposition.”
However, following a local council elections campaign that saw the DRP obtaining the majority of the island and atoll council seats at the expense of conceding municipal gains in Male’ and Addu Atoll to the rival Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the potential for a formal arrangement between various parties was uncertain, at least according to Shareef.
“Personally, looking at the political status of the Maldives, especially the opposition parties, I don’t see a clear picture of what will happen in 2013 [the date of the country’s next general elections], he said.
Although Shareef said that the PA’s key focus at the elections centred primarily on reducing the number of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) seats obtained across the country, he claimed that the party was in support of local councils and encouraged them to work for constituents and not their own partisan ambitions.
However, the PA Secretary General reiterated comments made by other political parties like the DRP concerning the lack of details on the exact role and responsibilities that the newly appointed local councils will have on the nation’s politics.
“We really don’t know how system will work or how affiliated it may be with government,” he said.
In this uncertain post council election environment, Shareef said that he believed there were already reports that numerous opposition parties were working to stifle possible developments or strategies planned by elected councils.
“We hear from many councils that they will do this or that to especially make things difficult for the opposition,” he said. “If DRP candidates are there, they will make things difficult for the MDP people in the island, if MDP is in the councils the opposite will occur. That will not be the real objective why we have elected a council.”
The PA secretary general claimed that he believed one problem from the local council elections was the lack of any published rules written within the legal acts outlining decentralised government and objectives for the local councils – legislation he said that should have been in place before voting started.
Shareed claimed that a lack of voter education, particularly on what was expected of them and the significance of their vote, might be problematic in cases where councils provided “favours” such as land rights to their respective parties.
“So far these rules and regulations are not developed,” he said. “There are many important procedures and rules to be developed by the Local Government Authority (LGA).”
With the appointment of members onto the LGA expected to take place soon, he hoped these rules and other mandates would soon be developed and formally published.
“Maybe at the end of the month, with all the election results announced, we would expect for the LGA to be formed,” he said. “It is formed, but it currently only has one member – the Home Minister, who is the President’s representative on the LGA.”
The Home Minister was not responding to calls at time of press.
From the perspective of the PA, emotions were mixed on the reaction to the local council elections.
Due to its ongoing coalition agreement with the DRP, where it opted not to compete directly against candidates perceived to have strong chances of being elected, Shareef said that the PA had itself acquired one atoll council seat out of eight candidates running on a ticket from the party.
While accepting that the elections were free, Shareef said he did not believe they were fair; particularly in terms of the resources available to the ruling MDP, which he alleged had used state funds to aid its election campaigning as well as providing itself disproportionate access to state media at the opposition’s expense.