By securing the largest vote-share in the September 7 election, deposed President (of Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean) Mohamed Nasheed has re-established his popular credentials. But he still has to complete an uphill trek before he can move back into the Muliaage (the official residence of Maldives President).
Nineteen months after their first democratically elected leader was coerced out of office, on September 7, the people of Maldives returned to the hustings once again to take a second shot at democracy. They came in large numbers — voter turnout was at an impressive 88 per cent — and reinforced their mandate in favor of deposed President Mohamed Nasheed.
The charismatic leader who first came to power in 2008 after defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest serving autocrat, this time received an impressive 45.45 per cent of the votes. Former Minister and Mr Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen came in second with 25.35 per cent votes, edging past business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who secured 24.07 per cent, while incumbent President Mohamed Waheed trailed far behind with 5.13 per cent of votes. However, even though Mr Nasheed has the largest vote-share, it still falls about five per cent (or approximate 10,000 votes) short of the stipulated 50 per cent-plus-one vote minimum needed to take charge. And so, on September 28, Mr Nasheed will face Mr Yameen in an electoral run-off.
This one will be a close call. Unlike in the first round of polling where it was a foregone conclusion that Mr Nasheed, arguably Maldives’s most popular leader, will secure the largest vote bloc, the dynamics change significantly in the second round as the non-Nasheed votes will tend to coalesce in favor of Mr Yameen. In this context that Mr Gasim, supposedly the country’s richest man, may emerge as the king-maker because his vote-share — considered to be the most transferable — could go either way.
If Mr Gasim throws his weight in favor of Mr Nasheed, as he had done back in 2008, the former President will have a strong chance of returning to power. However, Mr Gasim already has a loose (although some say reluctant) alliance of sorts with Mr Yameen. The two reportedly also have some commercial joint ventures planned together as well as share the other’s view of Maldives as a staunchly Islamic nation. If they do come together in the second round, Mr Nasheed will have a tough battle ahead of him as the Yameen-Gasim vote-share combine just about makes it to the 50 per cent mark. In such a situation, Mr Nasheed will absolutely have to win over the five per cent that went to Mr Waheed in the first round.
This is not an entirely unimaginable prospect. Mr Waheed contested as an independent candidate but represented a coalition of two small political outfits alongside two major players, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party and the religious Adhaalath Party. It is unlikely that Mr Nasheed with win over AP supporters but he should be able to convert the significant support base of the DRP — a party that he believes is ideologically most similar to his own MDP.
Ultimately, though, these are all backhand calculations and unless more details emerge about pre-poll alliances it is difficult to make a detailed assessment. As for New Delhi, it would, of course, like to see Mr Nasheed return to power not only because he is an avowed friend of India but also because he is Maldives’s best bet for a stable and prosperous future which again is in India’s interests given the archipelago’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean region. After all, Mr Nasheed was the only presidential candidate who had a clear and detailed policy blueprint for the country.
Having initially bungled its response to the crisis in Male last year, New Delhi has since been able to get its act together. The Indian High Commission in Male did well to give refuge to Mr Nasheed earlier this year.India also worked with the US and other international partners to ensure that Mr Nasheed could fight the election in the first place — a major achievement given that the incumbent regime tried repeatedly to put him behind bars.
This article first appeared in the Indian daily The Pioneer. Click here to go to the original article.