An Un­cer­tain Po­lit­i­cal Wave

As the Mal­dives faces se­vere en­vi­ron­men­tal and ter­ror­ism con­cerns, its po­lit­i­cal par­ties race to put their act to­gether.

Southasia - - Region - By Zan Gi­lani

On Septem­ber 5, 2008, former Pres­i­dent of the Mal­dives, Mau­moon Ab­dul Gay­oom, quit the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), thereby re­sign­ing from his post as Hon­orary Leader. This event oc­curred less than two years af­ter Gay­oom an­nounced that he was step­ping down as leader of the DRP and would not be con­test­ing the 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. Since March, the former pres­i­dent has pub­licly voiced his dif­fer­ences with the DRP on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions. The con­tro­ver­sial dis­missal of the DRP’S Deputy Leader, Umar Naseer, in April led to the for­ma­tion of a fac­tion named ZDRP. The news that Gay­oom is form­ing a new po­lit­i­cal party and may run for of­fice in the 2013 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is sur­pris­ing. Given that many of Z-DRP’S of­fi­cers re­signed with Gay­oom, it seems that this new party is es­sen­tially Z-DRP with­out any ties to Thas­meen Ali’s DRP.

Gay­oom’s ten­ure as pres­i­dent, which spanned thirty years (the long­est for any Asian head of state), was largely con­sid­ered au­to­cratic and op­pres­sive by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. It was only af­ter in­tense pres­sure and do­mes­tic ri­ot­ing that the Mal­dives saw in­creas­ing po­lit­i­cal lib­er­al­iza­tion. In 2005, the ban on po­lit­i­cal par­ties was lifted while in 2007 a con­sti­tu­tional ref­er­en­dum re­formed the elec­tion process from par­lia­men­tary nom­i­na­tion to di­rect vot­ing by the pub­lic; a change that even­tu­ally led to Gay­oom’s nar­row de­feat in the Oc­to­ber ‘08 pres­i­den­tial elec­tions by the in­cum­bent pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Nasheed. Some saw this as the over­throw­ing of a dic­ta­tor. Oth­ers saw it as the end of a golden age that es­tab­lished the Mal­dives as a tourist econ­omy.

In a press con­fer­ence on Septem­ber 4, Gay­oom de­clared that he was form­ing the party to achieve “very im­por­tant” national pur­poses such as strength­en­ing Is­lam in the coun­try. It is in­ter­est­ing that he played the “Is­lam Card” at a time when the Mal­dives is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mil­i­tant Is­lamic be­hav­ior in re­tal­i­a­tion to the al­leged im­po­si­tion of Western ideals on Mal­di­vian so­ci­ety. Gay­oom is align­ing him­self with the more hard­line, Is­lam-cen­tric po­lit­i­cal par­ties of the Mal­dives. If Gay­oom and such par­ties form a coali­tion and suc­ceed to win the elec­tions, the Mal­dives may face a trans­for­ma­tion sim­i­lar to Pak­istan dur­ing and af­ter the Zia era.

It also re­mains un­clear as to how pop­u­lar Gay­oom still re­mains and whether the pub­lic will re­ceive him well if he chooses to run for of­fice. “Mau­moon won’t be able to gather as many mem­bers as he ex­pects and I feel that he won’t get the sup­port he ex­pects ei­ther,” Pres­i­dent Nasheed’s Press Sec­re­tary Mo­hamed Zuhair pre­dicted. As it is, if the DRP and Gay­oom’s newly formed party be­gin to clash and bicker, vot­ers may turn to the safer op­tion of vot­ing for the Mal­dives Demo­cratic Party (MDP) and re-elect­ing Pres­i­dent Nasheed for a sec­ond term.

As­sum­ing Gay­oom does re­gain power, it is dif­fi­cult to say that he would be equipped to han­dle the coun­try in such try­ing times. Although it is true that un­der him, the Mal­dives trans­formed from an un­known ar­chi­pel­ago to a world-renowned tourist desti­na­tion but the crises that af­flict the Mal­dives to­day may be out­side his ex­pe­ri­ence as they are vastly dif­fer­ent or more pro­nounced than in years gone by. It is only re­cently that peo­ple have be­come at­tuned to the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of rapid cli­mate change. Con­sist­ing of some of the Earth’s low­est ly­ing lands - its high­est point is just 2.4 me­ters above the ocean’s sur­face - the Mal­dives is highly vul­ner­a­ble to ris­ing sea lev­els and may be com­pletely sub­merged within the next hun­dred years. Ter­ror­ism is also a re­cent con­cern for this tiny is­land na­tion. As with most of South Asia, mil­i­tant fun­da­men­tal­ism is clash­ing head-on with the es­tab­lished lib­eral ideals of the former Bri­tish pro­tec­torate.

Gay­oom’s re­turn to ac­tive pol­i­tics has only just be­gun and it is still un­clear how se­ri­ous the 83-year old is about re-en­ter­ing the po­lit­i­cal arena. It re­mains to be seen whether his new party, which has not even been named yet, will prove to be a se­ri­ous con­tes­tant in 2013. The writer is cur­rently study­ing at Columbia Univer­sity where he is ma­jor­ing in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence with a fo­cus on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions.

Can Gay­oom rally sup­port in time?

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