The government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) has rejected allegations it ever considered forming a coalition to back a candidate other than President Dr Mohamed Waheed.
Local media quoted senior figures in the Jumhoree Party (JP) of accusing DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali of unsuccessfully trying to become the running mate of its presidential candidate MP Gasim Ibrahim, before opting to side with the incumbent in May this year.
JP candidate Gasim, one of the country’s highest-profile business figures, has since formed his own coalition with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) after they both defected from President Waheed’s ‘Forward with the nation’ coalition in July.
“Last minute” decision
DRP Spokesperson Ibrahim Shareef today categorically denied that discussions had ever been held over backing any other candidate for this year’s election, claiming the decision to stand in a coalition with President Waheed has been made by the party’s council at the “last minute”.
“We were originally trying to run on our own [as a party] right up to the last minute,” he said. “However, it was decided to sacrifice [the party’s] ambitions for the sake of the nation.”
Shareef claimed that in comparison to the three other candidates preparing to contest this year’s election, President Waheed was not promising policies that could not be delivered under the current economy.
He accused Gasim, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate former President Mohamed Nasheed of being “very unrealistic” with their campaign promises.
“We are careful to make promises within the resources we have available and within the budget,” Shareef added.
Both the PPM and MDP have previously accused President Waheed of making development pledges outside the approved budget, while also alleging he had been using state resources to campaign for his own Gaumee Ihthihad Party (GIP).
According to Shareef, the ‘Forward with the nation’ also faced notable challenges in terms of limited party financing compared to other parties, accusing both the AP and DQP of defecting to Gasim’s coalition simply to secure an increased campaign budget.
“They went to the person who has money, while we are concerned with running an effective campaign,” he added.
Shareef said this year’s election was very much a “money game” that had affected the wider campaign atmosphere in the country, notably in how individual candidates were being portrayed in the media.
He expressed particular concern at the role the country’s media – often owned and controlled by political parties and business men – played in the electoral process.
Shareef argued that with media in the Maldives controlled by just a few powerful figures, it was difficult in the country’s fledgling democracy to effectively explain a candidate’s individual stand to the “ordinary public” and therefore allow them to make an informed decision and hold public figures to account.
On the campaign trail
A source in President Waheed’s campaign team told Minivan News that the defection of the AP and DQP from the ‘Forward with the nation’ coalition had required little change to the coalition’s campaign strategy, and that the party’s internal polling data suggested this had had a negligible impact on the coalition’s election chances.
The source said the departure of the AP in particular had actually increased the party’s support among the under 35 demographic.