With the Maldives warming up for presidential polls slated for September and the Election Commission fixing July 15 as the date for opening nominations, the climate of confrontation from the past year is slowly but surely giving way to the possibilities of new coalitions, pointing to the inevitability of conciliation and/or reconciliation now and later.
If still some political leaders will still not talk about conciliation and nor talk to one another, and instead hold grudges against one another, it has have more to do with personal hurt and/or ego than politics and political philosophies.
Independent of the political implications involved, Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid’s decision to join the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), after quitting the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), is a case in point. At the height of the ‘power-transfer’ in February last year, the MDP charged him and the Majlis with impropriety in hurrying through the ‘succession processes’ after President Mohammed Nasheed gave way to Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik in a surprising yet not wholly unexpected turn of events. Earlier, too, Speaker Shahid was locked in a series of procedural issues between the Executive under President Nasheed and the Majlis, where as the ‘minority party’ the MDP saw him more as an ‘opposition man’ than as an unbiased Speaker of the House.
A fortnight after Speaker Shahid’s formal announcement, no major party in the ruling coalition has demanded his resignation. Nor has any of them talked about moving a no-trust vote against him. Individual voices have been raised, but they have remained as such.
The DRP to which he had belonged until the other day and of which he was among the leading-lights, has since gone about its national congress as if nothing had happened. The party has enough worries on hand, in terms of its continued stability and future, starting with DRP Leader Thasmeen Ali contesting the presidential polls of September. Going by media reports, the national council has amended the party’s constitution, authorising the executive committee to formulate the internal laws for dissolving the DRP, if and when it so desired.
Army told to stay away
In a fitting and much-needed direction ahead of the polls, Defence Minister Ahamed Nazim has reportedly told the armed forces not to get involved in direct politics. They should stop with exercising their democratic rights as voters, and should not identify with individual political parties, the local media quoted him as telling the personnel of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF). A retired colonel of the armed forces, Nazim was at the centre of the controversy attending on the MDP charges of a ‘politico-military coup’ against President Nasheed in February 2012.
Minister Nazim’s direction now should have a salutary effect on the morale of the Maldivian forces in the future, if it is taken to its logical conclusion. It could help ensure free and fair elections, which the constitution has promised every five years. More importantly, it could set the tone and tenor for the political class and the armed forces reconciling themselves to the division of the security requirements of the State between the MNDF (external security) and the Maldivian Police Service (MPS for internal security duties), when the unified National Security Service (NSS) was bifurcated for the very reason in 2006, during the relatively long run-up to the democratisation process.
The political executive not having kept its part of the deal, the MNDF and the MPS have remained extremely and excessively politicised with their top-rung getting a make-over with every change of government. Given to practices from the past and also the paucity of MPS personnel at the ground-level, successive Governments too commanded the MNDF to what essentially are policing duties, leading to a cycle of ‘mutual dependency syndrome’ and consequent controversies. The fact that the MNDF was involved in the arrest of political personalities by successive Governments even after the bifurcation, in the one-day closure of the Supreme Court, all escalating to levels in which the force and also the MPS got entangled in the ‘power-transfer episode’ of February 7, 2012, speaks volumes.
Coalition and conciliation have been the basis for the emergence of multi-party democracy in the country and its sustenance since. Elections-2008 became possible, and results became pronounced, thanks to the opposition coalition of the time, particularly in the second-round, run-off polls to the presidency, despite what otherwise may be parroted in public. The process went unacknowledged as such, but that was what it was. Despite the controversial circumstances for which the 2008 constitution had not provided for, the realignment of that coalition was a major factor in the ‘transfer of power’ in February 2012.
In the run-up to the September polls, there is a talk of further realignment. Every party is talking to every other party, or is possibly sending out feelers. Whatever the reason, senior leaders of parties which were supposed to have been after one another were known to have met over the past year of conflict, controversy and confrontation. Where some such meetings were supposed to have been private, affairs became public knowledge almost immediately, whatever the reason, whoever leaked it.
Thus, Nasheed had DRP leader Thasmeen Ali and PPM’s Abdulla Yameen, since elected as the party’s presidential nominee, calling on him on separate occasions over the past year, like Speaker Shahid would do months later. Their’s was however said to be either a courtesy call on a former President or was to discuss specific issues like deadlocks in Parliament, where the MDP is the single largest party and controls many House Committees. Yet, the ice was broken, post-February ’12.
Protagonists remain. Of the three, Maumoon Gayoom and Mohammed Nasheed were past Presidents. The third one, Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik, is the incumbent. Waheed has since called on Maumoon, talking about a possible coalition still for the September poll, against Nasheed and his MDP. President Waheed has also been talking to ruling coalition partner and Jumhooree Party (JP) presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim and Gayoom’s PPM rebel, Umar Naseer. He already has the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP) and Presidential Advisor Hassan Saeed’s Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) in alliance with his own Quamee Iththihaad Party (QIP), all backing him for the presidency.
Gasim and Thasmeen Ali, leader of the DRP, founded by Gayoom before he split away and launched the PPM had once projected themselves as partners. There are also reports from time to time that the MDP has been sending out feelers or receiving them to and from partners in the ruling coalition. For them, Gayoom not contesting the primary even while retaining the party presidency and Yameen becoming the PPM’s presidential nominee should blunt some of their misdirected angst from the past, near and far.
The MDP is the single largest party, both in Parliament and outside now, going by the numbers. The recent cross-over by Speaker Shahid and a few others has added to the party’s parliamentary strength. MDP leaders claim that it is a reflection of the public mood ahead of the presidential polls. Candidate Nasheed has declared since that the party would not opt for a coalition as it was unworkable under the Maldivian constitutional scheme, which provided for Executive Presidency.
Party leaders attribute Nasheed’s declaration to the MDP’s confidence in being able to win the presidential polls by itself. Critics remain. They say, there are no takers for a coalition with the MDP after the 2008 experience, and that the MDP was making a virtue of a necessity. Yet, through the past year there have been occasion in which the MDP, and some of the leading partners in the ruling coalition like the PPM and the DRP, voting together on crucial pieces of legislation, reflecting the need and possibilities of ‘bipartisanship’, which is an inherent, yet unpronounced element of the Executive Presidency scheme.
End to ‘negative politics’
It is but natural for any nation that has continued with and under the same political leadership for three long decades, and a history of sorts before it, to suffer the effects of ‘anti-incumbency’ afflicting the regime. The 2008 Constitution and the presidential polls were the cause and effect of the anti-incumbency finding a democratic expression, leading to the most controversial of ‘transfers of power’ that the nation had anticipated or others had gone through. There is no reason why 2013 could not be a repeat of 2008, pushing 2012 to the background and permanently so, at least as far as the process are concerned and independent of the results, which rests with the people of the country.
If Elections-2008 were thus won and lost on ‘negative votes’, it may not be any different in 2013. In most democracies the world over, ‘anti-incumbency’ rather than the ‘promised moon’ has been at the bottom election-driven power-transfers. In some of those nations, palpable in the Third World than in the First, internal dynamics of individual political parties have been driven by their inherent belief in ‘anti-incumbency’ – and not their ‘positive’ politics, policies and programmes – putting them (back) in power.
So complete has been the belief that some leaders in some of the parties would rather fight to keep the party leadership with them, ready to be catapulted to power by the externality of anti-incumbency against the ruler of the day. This throws up the problem of the newly-elected not having thought of working out and working with a ‘positive programme’ to endear him and his party to the people at large, who thus end up crying ‘anti-incumbency’ before long.
It is under these circumstances that post-poll governments in these democracies have often been driven to stick to their electoral promises which are mostly confined to ‘exposing’ those that they had replaced and bringing them to justice for whatever offence that they might have been said to have committed while in power and abusing that power. This ‘eye-for-an-eye’ merry-go-round, if it could be called so, has only made every one blind to the power that they have come to enjoy and enforce, rather by default than any other way.
This alone has had the potential to defeat the people’s faith in democracy, as they get to feel little or no positive contributions and consequences of democracy touching their everyday life. Despite hopes to the contrary at birth, Maldives has proved to be no exception. However, in this case, over the past five years of democratic over-heating Maldives has proved that popular democracy has come to stay. So has coalition politics, in power and/or out of it.
‘Coalition-compulsions’, a new phrase that Maldives and Maldivian polity will have to come to terms with even while practising it already, would imply that all stake-holders should be ready for future cross-over by individual parties and their individual leaders and should not say or do things that they might regret on a later date. In a nation where the total registered membership of all political parties does not add up to half the electorate, it is saying a lot.
It is a message to the political parties that they need conciliation processes and reconciliation procedures in their own larger and future interest than their short-lived present, which the first five years of democracy has proved to each one of them, individually and collectively. If at a critical stage in the nation’s history, Presidents Gayoom and Nasheed could ensure a smooth power-transfer through a promise of give-and-take in 2008, there is no reason why the un-kept promises as perceived by various stake-holders cannot be revisited in the run-up to the second presidential polls under the multi-party democracy scheme.
There is thus a need for finding institutional solutions for ending mutual conflict and consequent confrontation that the nation can ill-afford in times such as these — when political stability is threatened alongside by economic downslide. It can blame the economy on the external world. Political problems are a Maldivian making just as the transition to democracy was a boon earlier. Both have had the ‘Made in Maldives’ brand sealed all over them.
The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation
All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]