Opposition leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali has claimed that the prospect of an Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voting majority in parliament – a potential scenario following recent defections of DRP members to the ruling party – could have a silver lining for his supporters come election time.
Thasmeen said he believed if the MDP’s claims of having overall control of the Majlis proved true, the government at the 2013 general election would be unable to escape blame for recent economic reforms he believes have failed the public.
Thasmeen, who is himself currently embroiled in factional party infighting with a group aligned with former DRP leader and Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was speaking as Ali Waheed, a former Deputy Leader of his party, joined the MDP over the weekend.
Waheed, who joined former DRP members Ahmed Assad ‘Adubarey’ and DRP Sports Wing Head Hassan Shujau in signing up to the MDP, gave a speech citing concerns about the democratic nature of his former party. Waheed has strongly criticised President Mohamed Nasheed in the past.
“We did not bring change to the country for a person to advance because he belongs to a certain family or clan, but for a person to move up through merit,” Waheed said. “Today we can see that those who could not digest this have created different factions and we can see the state of the party [DRP] we formed with our hard work. Therefore, because [the party] has become an inheritance, I have let go and walked out empty-handed.”
Thasmeen said a majority would mean the governing party would be no longer able to blame opposition for its own failings – something he feels they had succeeded in doing previously.
“Firstly, I am not sure that the MDP have gained a parliamentary majority; as far as I am aware only two [MPs] have shifted to the party. Certainly if [a majority] happens, it would pave the way for the government to get things passed through parliament the way they want them, and this would be a new era for politics,” he said.
Thasmeen claimed that as the DRP had never itself held a political majority, it had effectively been subjected to checks and balances in parliament resulting from needing to agree unanimously with opposition coalition partners. As a result of this need for unanimous compromise, the DRP head claimed that the opposition’s ability to block government legislation had been used only in rare instances.
He added that in the event that the MDP might potentially claim a majority within the Majlis, the country’s changing political dynamic would not significantly change his own party’s policies of trying to hold the government to account.
“One thing is clear – the government has been successful in blaming parliament for what have been failures of its policies. Come the next election, they will pay the price for the programmes that have failed, and this will be something of a silver lining for the DRP,” he said.
“Ali Waheed’s shift [to the MDP] does not make any difference to our work as the opposition or possible collaboration with the government. It is a joint parliamentary group that sets our policy and if we agree strongly about an issue with the government then we will work with them on it. We take stands on principle, no matter the strength of the MDP.”
Thasmeen highlighted his party’s stand on government policy areas such as the economy which this month led to protests – said to be instigated as a youth movement – held in Male’ over concerns about the cost of living.
However, the DRP leader added that recent divides within the party linked to the formation of the Z-DRP faction had negatively impacted its opposition role.
“There is no question that these divisions have weakened the DRP. Unease had been created in the party, but I do not believe this is a challenge that cannot be overcome,” he said.
Referring particularly to Waheed’s defection, Thasmeen said he believed that MPs elected on a DRP ticket should not then choose to use divides within the party as an “excuses to jump ship” to the MDP.
Following Waheed’s departure from the party, Thasmeen said that the country’s economic reforms – such as devaluing the rufiya – would remain a key concern for the DRP when parliament next reconvened.
“The government has indicated that it will release proposals to address economic concerns and bring down the dollar rate,” he said. “We do accept the fact that revenue has to be increased, but we would like to see serious attempts to reduce state expenditure and ensure revenue is not being wasted.”
The DRP leader claimed that the party was not specifically calling on the government to slash spending in a single area such as political appointees, but instead asked for a concensus on areas such as in the funding of new offices for local councils formed during local elections held in February.
“We are willing to support spending cuts across the board; but it is important that this is done with a consensus-based approach.”
On the back of attempts by dismissed deputy DRP leader Umar Naseer – currently aligned with the DRP faction – to try and file a case with the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) over allegations the MDP had bribed DRP members to join its ranks, Thasmeen said he was not certain of the truth about such claims.
“Without knowing the facts it is not an easy situation to comment on. However, as a party, the MDP has a number of policies that have failed,” he said. “The forced exchange rate is one [policy] that has impacted the lives of many Maldivians, there is no logic in jumping ship to suddenly support it.”
Confident of a majority
MDP MP Ahmed Hamza said the party was confident it would achieve a voting majority as opposition MPs “realise that the party’s approach is not constructive.”
“I think they are frustrated,” Hamza claimed. “Ali Waheed said he had waited two years without seeing a responsible opposition.”
He acknowledged that the loss of MPs risked destabilising the already split opposition: “Ali Waheed was a major voice in the opposition,” he observed.
A voting majority favouring the MDP would “speed the efficiency at passing legislation to support government policy,” Hamza said, claiming that this would allow the government to swifting bring in changes to stablise the economy.