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Can Maldives Avert a Constitutional Crisis?

Dr Anand Kumar is Associate Fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses. Click here for detailed profile
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  • October 26, 2013

    Though a new date for presidential elections in Maldives has been announced the people in Maldives and the international community still remain anxious whether the elections would be held. The term of present Mohammed Waheed’s government ends on November 11 and a new president has to take over by that date to avoid a constitutional crisis. The Election Commission of Maldives has announced November 9 as the new date for the first round of elections. To recall, the elections scheduled on October 19 could not take place due to non-cooperation of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdullah Yameen and the Jumhoory Party (JP) candidate Qasim Ibrahim. However, if there is no outright winner in the November 9 first round then a run-off would be held on November 16. There is a possibility of a constitutional crisis if the elections are not held on the announced date and Maldives, in effect, will be without a president after November 11.

    The present political confusion in Maldives has emerged after the earlier election held on September 7 was declared null and void by the Supreme Court. The verdict had come in response to a petition filed by Qasim Ibrahim of Jumhoory Party who came third in the elections. Ibrahim had alleged irregularity in the voter list and also in the conduct of polling. Qasim Ibrahim is member of powerful Judicial Services Commission and is the richest businessman of the Maldives.

    In the earlier polls held on September 7, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed had secured 45.5 per cent of the popular vote. The second and third ranking candidates were a good 20 per cent behind. It was clear that they had little chance of winning. However, in a similar situation in 2008, Nasheed had successfully managed to defeat Gayoom. But then the whole political environment was different. Maldivian people were just tired of the longest serving dictator of Asia and they wanted a change in the government. Moreover, those elections also signified onset of multi-party democracy in the Maldives. And Nasheed in his endeavour was supported by all opposition groups except Gayoom who was the main contender.

    But this time, though the situation was same between the top contender and the second ranking candidate, the third candidate Qasim Ibrahim was also not far behind. He had lost elections by just about 3000 votes. The immense financial resources of Qasim and his influence in the judiciary and law enforcement agencies have emboldened him to use these institutions to his advantage.

    Though the September 7 elections were endorsed as free, fair and peaceful by the international community, Qasim managed to get them declared void with the help of judiciary. The judiciary on the basis of a ‘secret police report’ which has not been made public, declared the elections as void. What was worse, subsequently the judiciary tried to impose several conditions which were nothing but delaying tactics. It asked the EC to approve the fingerprint of nearly 60,000 voters. In Maldvies, this process would have taken not less than six months. The judiciary also tried to give greater role to police forces, in the conduct of elections, rather than putting them under the control of the EC. This step of the judiciary was seen as dubious, as the police force has large number of officers recruited during Gayoom era.

    The judiciary also asked the EC to get the voters list endorsed by the top three candidates before proceeding with the elections. However, except Nasheed the other two candidates did not approve the list. So even before elections were actually postponed on October 19, its ground was laid in the court verdict itself. The Supreme Court had actually given Abdulla Yameen and Qasim Ibrahim veto in the holding of presidential elections.

    Yameen and Ibrahim knew full well that they are not going to win elections, given the huge gap existing between them and Nasheed. Moreover, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) leader Thasmeen Ali had already supported the candidature of Nasheed after the September 7 polls. Nasheed’s candidature was further boosted when the incumbent president Waheed decided to bow out from the elections.

    In this situation, the best course for Yameen and Qasim Ibrahim was to disrupt the elections. Yameen also tried to revive the case filed against Nasheed for arresting the judge. But he could not succeed in stopping Nasheed from contesting elections because of the international pressure. So they refused to endorse the voters list and got the elections postponed. The incumbent president Waheed though pretended to be supporting Nasheed after first round, but it seems that was to fool people. He expressed concern about the fair conduct of elections but it seems Waheed himself is the biggest hurdle in the way of a fare and peaceful elections.

    In the past, Waheed has been inimical to India’s security and economic interests and has been a tool in the hands of those extra-regional forces that are trying to strengthen their presence in the Indian Ocean. The multi-party democratic elections in the Maldives at present seem to be a victim of the role played by the “deep state” in Maldives and the extra-regional forces who want their presence even if it means scuttling the nascent democracy in the Maldives.

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