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Maldives: Hiccups in Democratic Transition

Dr Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
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  • September 25, 2013

    The much awaited multi-party elections in Maldives took place on September 7, 2013. As expected the first round failed to throw up a clear winner. This has now necessitated a second round which was earlier scheduled for September 28, 2013, and has now been postponed. In the run-off election top two candidates from the earlier round would contest. They are Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate, Mohamed Nasheed and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen. However, the third candidate, Qasim Ibrahim from Jumhooree Party who lost by a whisker does not seem satisfied with the results and has gone to the court. In response to his petition the Supreme Court of Maldives has suspended presidential elections sparking protests and fears of instability in the archipelago country.

    The polls in Maldives generated lot of enthusiasm among the people. They turned out in large numbers and nearly 88 percent of eligible voters used their franchise. In Maldives, the total number of voters is 2,39,593 out of which 2,11,890 cast their ballot. Former president Mohamed Nasheed managed 95,224 (45.45 per cent). Yameen, half brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came second with 53,099 votes (25.35 per cent) and business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim came a close third with 50,422 votes (24.07 per cent). President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik finished last with 10,750 votes (5.13 per cent).

    The interesting part of first round of polling is that business tycoon, Qasim Ibrahim who is also supported by the fundamentalist Adhaalath Party lost by a whisker. This has made swallowing defeat little difficult for him. Similarly, incumbent president Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik polled just five percent of the votes and probably is the first sitting president anywhere in the world to get such low percentage in a re-election. This clearly shows that his was not a popular government though earlier a Commonwealth-led probe had stated that the transfer of power was done according to the constitution. The Commission of National Inquiry set up by the Maldivian government last year had also found no evidence of a coup.

    Qasim Ibrahim who came third with less than 3000 votes has alleged irregularity in polling. He alleged that there are several flaws in the voter list. He has claimed that he could have easily got between 10,000 to 30,000 more votes. He has disputed the result in the High Court, Supreme Court, at rallies, and on his television station – Villa TV - declaring that he should have been placed first. Interestingly, PPM has also extended support to Qasim Ibrahim and has accepted the Supreme Court’s decision to delay the elections.

    Qasim Ibrahim is not only the leader of the Jumhooree Party (JP) he is also the richest man in Maldives. He is a resort tycoon and heads the Villa Group of companies, one of the largest private conglomerates in the Maldives, involved in the gas, shipping, aviation, airport, education, media and resort sectors. He headed the Special Majlis that drafted the 2008 constitution and served as finance minister from 2005-2008 during the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. During his tenure as finance minister expenditure on civil servant salaries and allowances tripled and the government employed almost 12 percent of the population.

    There is nothing wrong with Qasim Ibrahim going to the courts. But Maldives judiciary has its own problem. Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed has been implicated in a series of widely circulated obscene videos, but the judicial oversight body Judicial Services Commission (JSC) decided not to suspend the judge against the recommendation of a subcommittee it set up to investigate the matter. This happened because Qasim Ibrahim was a member of the JSC at the time and he stopped all action against the judge.

    The MDP had apprehended that the courts would delay the election process, hence it had demanded reconvening of the parliament. In a statement the party had said, "We will not allow a courthouse that consists of some disgraced judges who face allegations of lewd conduct to abrogate the will of the people and disrupt the constitution." The MDP is also wary of the judiciary as a similar confrontation earlier had cost Nasheed dear and he was forced to resign as president.

    The election held on 7th of September was one of the most closely observed elections. It had more than 2000 observors for less than 2.5 lakh voters. All important countries including India had sent their observers. This election was also observed by Transparency Maldives an NGO. All the observers and Transparency Maldives have certified that elections were free and fair. Transparency Maldives stated that incidents taking place during the election process were not such that could have altered the election results.

    International organizations like the UN and other observer countries including the US and India had urged the candidates to accept the election results and not get into litigation. But this request was not accepted by the Jumhooree Party candidate Qasim Ibrahim. Now with the Maldivian Supreme Court postponing second round of elections the democratic transition in the Maldives has gone into limbo. The confusion prevailing in the country after the first round of elections has also made it clear that whosoever emerges victorious after the second round if it is held at all, he may find opposition quite difficult to handle in the aftermath of elections.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.