My first assignment at university, back in 1997, asked me to look into why people voted the way they do.
I remember feeling quite ill-prepared to answer this question because I had never experienced voting in its true democratic form. After all I grew up in the Maldives.
However, I came to realise that it boils down to a combination of personal characteristics, particular circumstances and the choice of leaders, as well as the image of these leaders put across to the public.
In 2008, faced with a choice between the DRP and the MDP, it is not difficult to see who someone such as I would pick.
I am (relatively) young, and as such I am prone to taking risks. I feel comfortable with a changing world. I have a tertiary education from a western institution. I am starting off in life, have no family who relies on me to provide for them, have no business that I have poured my heart and soul into, and feel confident that I have the skills to make it in life. My philosophy to change is summed up by the other iconic saying of our time: “Yes we can!”.
You don’t have to be Don Draper to realize which product I’m buying.
But what continues to fascinate me is the support that the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party still holds among the people. It also fascinates me just how much hatred some people have for the MDP.
I refuse to believe that these people are all crazy. After all, some of these people are intelligent, educated and perfectly reasonable people.
So let me try and outline some categories of people who may find it ‘logical’ to support DRP and what you may feel if you belonged to any of these categories:
- Direct beneficiary of DRP in power:
You are someone (or are a family member of someone) who was a direct recipient of benefits under the DRP.
This does not mean that these benefits were through corruption – but just run-of-the-mill influence or power that came to you because you believed in the vision and message of the party and supported it since its inception. And let’s face it, this is the same reason why a generation of people who are in places of influence because of the MDP now may support MDP in the future.
- Democracy ain’t so hot after all:
You simply prefer the harmony that existed when democracy was not around. You are not necessarily taken in by all this talk of democracy and human rights because it has meant the disintegration of the social harmony and fabric that existed under Gayyoom. Now, every other day, there are demonstrations, strikes, and some kind of nuisance on the street.
These days people are just so angry at each other. Families, friendships, sports-clubs, marriages, relationships have all been affected quite adversely by the rise of democracy in the country.
I mean things were just so much better when people didn’t talk politics and talked about the movies or joked about their families or something equally harmless. Life was hard enough without all these politics on the street.
Worse of all, democracy has not delivered the instant benefits that it promised. You just want things back the way they were, and to go on with your life leaving the government to do what it did, even if it was doing it badly.
However, now that democracy (in all its messiness) is around, who do you blame for this? Why, the people who started doing these demonstration on the streets after all – the MDP.
After all, if it wasn’t for the MDP we wouldn’t have protests on the street. We would have a serene parliament that never debates. In fact we wouldn’t have parliament at all, especially on our TV screens. We would have songs and movies and entertainment, interrupted occasionally by a ‘riddle’ we can answer by SMS.
You do not believe the capabilities of the existing government are sufficient for leadership. You question the leadership ability of President Nasheed and his team. You regard them as those, who even with good intentions, simply do not have the intellectual firepower to pull all this off.
Your worst have suspicions come true because the MDP have rewarded positions of power to cronies and activists. For every qualified person in the administration, you see two hacks who had more talent at throwing stones than conducting policy. You secretly feel that the leader of our country and the majority of his cabinet should at least have a PhD, but may not quite say this out loud for the sake of being accused of elitism.
- MDP are liars selling false hope for the sake of power:
You think that the MDP are peddlers of populist dreams who have promised things that they (or anyone without divine help) cannot actually deliver, simply for the sake of coming to power.
Inter-island transport network? This has never been done in the Maldives so why should it work now?
A modern real-estate market in the outer islands of the Maldives? These seem like wishful thinking to many people – even to reasonable people.
A carbon-neutral Maldives when 100% of our existing power-plants are diesel?
US$1 billion in aid in 2010? That’s seem like a little too much – especially if you fall into the category above.
- The MDP leadership is dictatorial and undemocratic themselves:
Deep down you are a democrat at heart and feel strongly about the ideals of representative government. You feel that President Nasheed is pushing things in the wrong direction and acting in direct conflict with the constitution of the country.
This is a completely reasonable opinion to have, but you cannot also hold this and support DRP. That would be a tad bit hypocritical and downright silly. This however is completely justifiable if you are an ‘independent’ follower of democracy in its true forms espoused by the great political philosophers of time.
- The MDP philosophy is wrong:
You oppose the center-right philosophy of the government. Rather than a free-market state that makes you responsible for your own well-being, you feel (deep-down) that the government should take care of its people – it should provide jobs in a protected public sector so that everyone has a decent guaranteed salary. You don’t care, nor do you want to care, about how the state gets its money. It should just provide us with healthcare, schooling, housing, jobs, TVs… the whole shebang if possible.
If probed a little deeper, you would say that the economic vision of the country should be that the tourism sector of the economy – just like the oil and gas sector is in Saudi Arabia – and the state should play the role in distributing the benefits of that tourism sector to the public.
Our tourism market has functioned well enough even with a few people getting very rich – and the ‘benefits’ this country has seen in the last 30 years are because of this economic model. Sure you would like change, but that change should be gradual and planned – like on a roadmap. Evolution, not revolution, is what you would have preferred.
In a sense, it is the strangely soothing tale of the state playing a truly paternalistic role in its most literal sense – acting like a benevolent father.
He/it rewards those who accept his/its wisdom and vision, while punishing those who misbehave and question its/his authority.
While this is old-fashioned, we must admit that like all fathers, there is a genuine appeal in having someone to look over us. This I believe is the reason why (in some mass pseudo-oedipal complex) the support of DRP is stronger among women of a certain generation.
My point in conducting this analysis is primarily to take the level of discussion in our political sphere to a more intelligent and hopefully beneficial level.
Firstly, I hope it gives those on the yellow-side (MDP) of the political divide something to think about on how to successfully challenge those who oppose them. No doubt, those in the first category cannot really be converted because they are the unwinnable masses, but the concerns of those in the other categories can and should be addressed.
The MDP must show these people that they are capable, that their ideology of self-help center-right compassionate economic conservatism (borrowed from their friends at the ‘New’ UK Conservative party) is a winning philosophy. They must turn their dreams into a reality.
However, for those on the blue-side (opposition and DRP side) of the divide, I hope it gives you a moment of reflection to see quite why it is that you hate the MDP so. If you fall into the first category – perhaps its time you looked into ways in which you fashion your life around having a beneficial outcome irrespective of whoever is in power.
However, for those of you who fall into the other categories – I hope it sheds light on quite why you hate the MDP so, and ask yourself how you can help your party (the DRP) to outline a better vision for our country.
The MDP claim they are center-right – so what is the philosophy of the DRP? Surely it cannot be that of a paternalistic state, which is outdated and unsustainable.
I say this because before you know it, we will once again be asked to choose our leaders. And when you do, I hope you will at least take a minute to ask yourself why it is that you are inclined to vote in a certain way. You will do this country a world of good by that small act.
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