Gasim to retire from politics

The leader of the opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim has announced he will retire from politics once his five-year term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019.

The philanthropist and tourism tycoon, who contested the 2008 and 2013 presidential polls, told newspaper Haveeru today that he plans to resign as the JP leader. He also said he no longer wants to run for the presidency.

“My experiences of the two [presidential] elections I’ve contested are clear. It has damaged my businesses. Now I want to step down and serve the people. There is a lot I can do to serve. I have served many people for the sake of humanity,” he said.

Gasim’s announcement comes weeks after the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his Villa Group and froze the accounts of several subsidiary companies.

The claim was issued after the JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in a campaign against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged authoritarianism.

The JP is meanwhile in disarray with two senior officials facing terrorism charges.

Gasim is in Germany at present, Haveeru said. He has been abroad since late April. In a tweet in May, he said he was in Thailand.

Party over

Gasim on Tuesday also appealed to the 10-member JP parliamentary group to support a ruling coalition-proposed constitutional amendment that would bar him from the presidency.

“The JP’s constitution states the leader of the party is its presidential candidate. I fill that position today. But with my decision to support that [the constitutional amendment] I cannot hold that position. So I will hold a congress and hand over the leadership to someone else,” he said.

The ruling coalition wants to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution at present says that presidential candidates must be 35 years of age.

Gasim will be 66 in 2018.

The MP said he would not abandon the party even if he stepped down from its leadership. “This is a party of 30,000 members. I do not want to destroy the Jumhooree Party. So I will settle the party debts to zero and hand over to a new leadership.”

The JP is currently the only opposition party in talks with the government.

The JP’s last-minute backing was key in President Yameen’s 2013 presidential win. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the JP formed a coalition government, but tensions arose within months after JP accused the ruling party of failure to honor provisions in the coalition agreement including awarding JP members’ jobs.

Gasim had also backed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed in 2008 against the president of 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The JP and Nasheed’s MDP had formed a coalition with several smaller parties, but the coalition, too, fell apart within its 100 days. Gasim went on to play a key role in Nasheed’s 2012 ouster.

Economic sanctions

According to Haveeru, Gasim is in Frankfurt to save his ailing company.

The Villa Group – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – has faced difficulties in paying its 5000 staff due to the tax authority’s decision to freeze company accounts.

The Villa Group is contesting the US$90.4million claim at the civil court.

The claim has cost the company a US$80million loan, Villa has said.

“We are in dire straits, unable to pay salaries. With the accounts freeze, we are facing difficulties in sending money to students we provide scholarships for. Tourism occupancy is also very low. So I am looking for ways to improve the company’s financial situation,” Gasim said.

The Villa Foundation is currently supporting some 350 students’ higher education in the Maldives and abroad. The foundation says it has provided some 5000 students with full or partial scholarships.

Since the tax authority issued the US$90.4million claim, Gasim has not been seen at opposition protests and has remained silent on the ongoing political crisis triggered by the jailing of several politicians including Nasheed.

MPs and senior officials of the JP, however, went on to form a new coalition with the MDP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party in March.

Gasim served as Minister of Finance from 2005 – 2008 and served as the Speaker of the special parliament set up to draft the Maldives’ new constitution in 2008.


Comment: Maldives preparing for presidential polls

Come September the Maldives will be having the second multi-party elections for the nation’s presidency.

Only recently, incumbent President Mohammed Waheed Hassan Manik said the 2008 Constitution has provided for a presidential form of government under a parliamentary scheme, and the nation is facing the consequences. Waheed did not say if it included the controversial circumstances revolving around his own ascendancy to power when he was Vice-President to Mohamed Nasheed, the first President elected under the multi-party scheme.

President Waheed and his government and coalition partners have had their way that the polls for the nation’s highest office would not be advanced as sought by Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Yet, issues surrounding President Nasheed’s resignation of 7 February 2012 refuse to die down. The MDP itself may be paying a price for that in electoral terms, exactly 19 months after the ‘power-transfer’.

Candidate Nasheed is the issue thus in the upcoming elections. His three opponents readily concede as much. They also concede that the MDP is the single-largest vote-getter among them. The Election Commission has for months now acknowledged that MDP is the single largest political party in the country with the highest number of registered members.

The second in the line, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), comes a distant second with less than half the MDP’s figures. Third is the Dhivehi Raayathunge Party (DRP). Both parties were founded by President Nasheed’s predecessor, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and together, their membership comes closer to the MDP membership.

Of memberships and votes

Yet, questions remain if the DRP will be able to translate its membership into votes, or if there will be a substantial migration towards the PPM camp. Should that happen, and should Waheed’s administration attract a substantial share from an anticipated high percentage of non-committed voters, as candidate Nasheed had calculated in 2008, the team may be in some reckoning.

DRP leader Thasmeen Ali gets to be the running-mate of President Waheed. Thasmeen may hold that record for a time, as he was similarly the running-mate of incumbent President Gayoom the last time round.

Apart from Nasheed and President Waheed, the poll involves PPM’s Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of former President Gayoom. Also in the race is Jumhoree Party (JP) leader, Gasim Ibrahim, with his vice-presidential running-mate, Dr Hassan Saeed. It is pertinent to recall that in the first multi-party presidential polls of 2008, contesting alone, Gasim Ibrahim and Hassan Saeed polled a total of 34 percent vote-share, second only to incumbent President Gayoom’s 40 percent.

Yet, under a system in which the first two contest the second run-off round if none poll over 50 percent votes in the first round, Nasheed with his stand-alone 25 percent first-round vote-share challenged Gayoom in the run-off in 2008.

Gasim and Saeed joined hands with him. Nasheed won. The final poll figures stood testimony to the effective transfer of their first round votes (Saeed: 16-plus percent, Gasmim: 15-plus percent) to Nasheed.

The question is if Saeed with his Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) have enough votes in the first place left with him, and also has enough ‘transferrable votes’, which JP’s Gasim alone seems to be enjoying in the country at the moment.

That leaves Yameen with his running-mate Dr Mohammed Jameel Ahmed, who was Home Minister in the Waheed government, sacked after crossing over from Saeed’s DQP. Saeed himself would later leave the government as Special Advisor to President Waheed, to join hands with Gasim, whose JP technically is still a partner in the non-MDP, anti-Nasheed administration, along with the PPM.

Having launched his campaign late, and amidst controversy attending on the PPM primary for selecting the party nominee for the presidential polls, Yameen relies on the better organisational structure of the party, the recognisable face and leadership of Gayoom.

In doing so, he however will have to face charges of ‘family rule’ within the party, which thankfully none of his political rivals are ready to flag in any specific and substantive way.

Realignment for run-off?

The issue is Nasheed, and his post-resignation polarising call, seeking to revive the past political fight for ushering in multi-party democracy in the country. It remains to be seen if excessive reference to, and reliance on the same as a campaign platform and tool over the past months since his leaving power can still help focus the limelight on the futuristic issues and constituency-based campaign manifestos that the MDP and Nasheed have painstakingly prepared and pointedly present to the voter.

For Nasheed to win the first round, he will require those additional votes, from new constituencies, or constituencies that were impressed by his socio-economic measures during the short-lived first term, and would hence like to give him a second chance.

Should the elections run into the second round, it could then become a wide-open race. If nothing else, the temptation is to constantly refer to the 2008 experience, in terms of form and content. There could be realignment, the contours of which remain to be explored and exploited in full.

The MDP has called upon the 240,000 voters of the country to hand down a decisive first-round victory in the first round to Nasheed, for the party and the leader to give a stable government and carry forward democratic and socio-economic reforms that they claim have been initiated during his ‘aborted’ first term.

It is also an acknowledgement of the ground reality, where the MDP cannot find coalition partners among the rest to work with the Nasheed leadership. His running-mate in former Education Minister and first Chancellor of the National University, Dr Mustafa Luthfy, along with the recent entry of Parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid to the MDP fold after being elected MP under a DRP ticket, is expected to bring votes that Nasheed may need for a first-round win.

President Waheed has created history too. With the total membership of his Gaumee Iththihad Party (GIP) under the scanner, and the present law on 10,000 members for party registration under judicial review, he chose to contest as an ‘Independent’, though his DRP partner is a registered party.

He went around acquiring the signatures of 1500 registered voters for endorsing his nomination, an alternative requirement under the law. Tension remained in the Waheed camp until Election Commission officials had cleared all signatories as genuine voters, sitting through the night on the verification work.

Waheed’s poll call would be ‘stability in an unmanageable coalition set-up’, which it was. Today, every government party is contesting the presidential polls separately and against one another – apart from contesting against the MDP, the only party that is not a coalition partner. They have voted for and against government motions in Parliament, and run down one another, too. Only recently did they join hands to vote against ‘secret ballot’ on non-trust votes against the President, Vice-President and Government Ministers in the house.

Yet, some of them, particularly the PPM and DRP, have voted with the MDP opposition, to deny ministerial jobs to some nominees of President Waheed’s choice.

Yameen seems to resting on past laurels, many of which readily sit on the shoulders of President Gayoom. The PPM calls his rule the ‘golden age’, and positions Yameen’s candidacy as a return to that era.

Yameen, as may be recalled, is representing a party and leadership that converted a poor, ignorant and ignored nation to one with the highest per capita GDP in South Asia, through 30 years of rule that also gave Maldivians modern education and limited medical care, non-existent earlier.

‘Limited’ or ‘non-existent’ democracy as known to the West was the bane of generations and centuries. Gayoom’s presidency was satisfied with incremental changes to the scheme, when the younger generations in particular may have already been craving for wholesale changes.

If he was a lone fighter the last time round, JP’s Gasim has put together a ‘rainbow coalition’ this time. Apart from Hassan Saeed’s DQP, he has also successfully negotiated a partnership with the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP). As may be recalled, the vociferous and conservative leadership of the AP played a major role in mobilising the ‘December 23 movement’ that ultimately brought about their intended change of power without ballot in February 2012.

Missing reciprocity

With its conservative religious approach in a moderate Islamic nation, the AP is otherwise seen as a controversial political player. Their crossing over from the Waheed camp too close to the nominations date for the presidential polls caused eyebrows to rise.

Yet, by bringing together disparate groups that are otherwise desperate, Gasim may have ensured a political combination that could see him through to the local government elections in December this year, and parliamentary polls that are due by May next year.

For now, PPM’s Yameen has publicly declared his intention to work with Gasim in the second round polls (hoping that it would go in for a run-off). This may have also owed to the over-worked rumour-mill that put the PPM and MDP on the same side of the political divide should there be no clear verdict in the first round.

Gasim himself has not reciprocated positively, nor even responded to Yameen’s indicative support in anyway. Maybe he is keeping his options open. Maybe he has coalition compulsions that could flow on into the second round – if there is a second round.

The factors are varied, and so are the projected strengths and perceived weaknesses of the four tickets. There is then the question of 30,000 first-time voters, who unlike their preceding generation in 2008, seem unsure of themselves after the ‘democratic developments’ of the past year. Though they may not have begun focusing on it exclusively, at some point in the coming weeks contesting camps may have to do more to attract additional voters to the booth than may otherwise turn out to be.

In 2008 most, if not all first-time voters, and most of the total 40-plus per cent ‘young electors’ were believed to have voted for change. There was also an urge and consequent surge for participating in the historic event of their generation, from all sides. Thus the presidential election in 2008 witnessed a high 85-plus percent turnout in the first round and a higher 86-plus percent polling in the second round.

This time, too, voter turnout will have a say in the final outcome, starting with the fact if the polls would go into the second round – and more so, on who will get to rule Maldives for the next five years – and hopefully so!

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the 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]


Gayoom opts out of PPM presidential primary

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has announced he will not be competing in the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential primary scheduled for next month.

Local media reported that the former president made his decision via a one-page statement declaring: “I have decided not to take part in the PPM presidential primary scheduled to be held on the 30th of next month”.

Gayoom, appointed president of the party earlier this year, stated that “there are people within PPM leadership who are capable of fulfilling the Maldives presidency”.

Gayoom’s statement comes after he told Sun Online on February 19 that he would announce his decision regarding the party’s presidential primaries in nine days.

“I have made a decision, God willing, on how I will proceed. But I do not want to announce it here.  When these nine days pass, it will be known whether I will compete or not,” Gayoom told Sun Online earlier this month.

So far, Gayoom’s half-brother PPM MP Abdulla Yameen and PPM Interim Deputy Leader Umar Naseer are the only two candidates competing in the upcoming presidential primary.

Retiring from politics

In February 2010, Gayoom announced that he was retiring from politics after endorsing Ahmed Thasmeen Ali as leader of his former party, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

However, in September 2011, the former president opted to form the PPM after resigning from his position as ‘Honorary Leader’ (Zaeem) of the DRP.

Speaking to press back in 2011, Gayoom said he made the decision based on the assurance that the DRP would function “according to certain principles.”

“At the time and even up till yesterday, I was at the most senior post of one of the largest political parties in the country,” he said.

“So how can it be said that the person in the highest post of a political party is not involved in politics? Up till yesterday I was in politics. Today I am forced to create a new party because of the state of the nation and because it has become necessary to find another way for the country.”

As “a lot of citizens” had pleaded with him to form a new party, Gayoom said he made the decision to return to Maldivian politics as “a national obligation.”


Comment: Getting constitutional with Waheed

Dr Waheed has often reiterated that no matter what the findings are of a formal enquiry into the events that led to Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, his own legitimacy as President of the Maldives remains beyond question.

He bases this claim to legitimacy on the constitution. How much substance does the claim have?

Article 121 of the constitution states the President can quit by submitting his resignation written ‘under his own hand’ to the Speaker of the Majlis. The office of the President becomes vacant as soon as the Speaker receives the resignation letter.

Article 112 (d), meanwhile, states that if the office of the President becomes vacant ‘for any reason’, the Vice President shall succeed to the office of the President.

Nasheed wrote his resignation letter, did he not? Waheed was sworn in as president after the Speaker received the letter, was he not? This means he is the legitimate president, does it not?

Technically, yes. And only if we assume, like Waheed does, that the constitution does not give a damn about whether or not the hand that wrote the president’s resignation letter was forced.

Such narrow constructions of the constitution, although incompatible with the ethos of a new democracy committed to its consolidation, are popular weapons for instating the legitimacy of this new regime.

It has, for example, continuously invoked Article 110 as a reason why elections cannot be held earlier than July-September 2013 without first enacting a constitutional amendment.

Article 110 states that elections for the office of President must be held within 120 days to 30 days before the end of a given five year term. It assumes things are going according to plan and, to ensure the smooth transition of power, it provides a timeframe within which the handover of power can take place democratically, through the ballot box.

The new regime has taken this clause of the constitution to mean that it forbids elections until 120 days before the expiry of a natural five-year term, no matter what.

If this were so, why does Article 125(c) of the Constitution foresee circumstances ‘where fresh elections have to be held for any reason during the currency of an ongoing presidential term’?

Where then is the legal basis for the argument being made by Waheed and the current regime that holding early elections will require a constitutional amendment?

Another question about Waheed and the constitution is: what type of president is he? Is he a caretaker president, or is he president proper?

Article 114 of the constitution says that an incoming president can assume office once he takes his oath before the Chief Justice, ‘at a sitting of the People’s Majlis’.

The Chief Justice administered the oath of office for Waheed’s presidency. And Speaker Abdulla Shajid was present. But it was not done ‘at a sitting of the People’s Majlis’.

According to the constitution this is a type of oath administered not to an incoming president proper, but to ‘any person temporarily discharging the duties of the office of the President’ (Article 126).

Furthermore, the only circumstance in which the constitution envisages the need for such a caretaker is if the offices of both the President and the Vice President become vacant at the same time (Article 125(a)).

By overseeing a caretaker oath for Waheed, did the Speaker of the Majlis de facto deem the offices of both the president and the vice president vacant on 7 February? If not, why was Waheed not sworn in before the Majlis?

Most importantly, if the constitution is to be upheld, such a caretaker figure can only remain as the country’s leader for a maximum period of 60 days.

Elections must be held within that period for both President and Vice President.

So why are fresh elections not being held before 7 April? And again, why is it being said that the constitution cannot accommodate early elections without an amendment?

And, if Waheed took office as a ‘person temporarily discharging the duties of the office of the President’ (Article 126), what business does he have purging the government of high-ranking MDP members, installing a brand new cabinet, and modifying or reversing most major policies pursued by the legitimate government he was supposed to be taking care of?

If President Nasheed resigned voluntarily and Waheed acceded to the position constitutionally, then Waheed’s first trip to the Majlis should not, and cannot, be to address it as President.

Without the Majlis first witnessing him taking the oath, it has no business accepting him as President.

One final question on Waheed and the constitution: if Waheed were such a stickler for it, and were he such a committed democrat, why is he turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the thousands of people demanding ‘elections now’?

Article 125 of the constitution provides him with the perfect opportunity to give people what they want. All he has to do is resign for there to be an election within 60 days.

Can Waheed take a hit for the greater good? Or is his commitment to democracy as much of a chimera as the ninety-percent support he claims to have?

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]