It was all yellow…but not yellow enough

Sosun Magu, Male’, ready for the vote ahead of Saturday’s election.

All of the Maldivian archipelago from Haa Alifu atoll in the north to Addu atoll in the South were all yellow at the end of Saturday’s vote count. Mohamed Nasheed won a majority in all but two atolls (Qasim Ibrahim’s home atoll and Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s constituency) but fell short of the 50 percent plus one necessary to win outright. Nasheed, who got 95,224 votes in total (45.5%) will face Yameen who won 53,099 (25.3%) in the second-round on 28 September.

Elections Commission required all parties to end their campaigns on 6:00pm Friday. MDP continued its colourful and exuberant ‘Ehburun’ [In One Round] campaign almost to the dot with a massive parade in Male’. Over 12,000 people joined the march, and very few doubted the party would be able to pull-off an outright win. Ehburun had become such a buzz word in Male’ in the last few weeks that it replaced ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ among MDP members. ‘Ehburun’, said a taxi driver as I got out of his car when the vote count was about to begin on Saturday at 4:30 pm.

Male’s streets were deadly calm for the next four hours as people remained glued to their television screens watching the vote count. By about 10:00 p.m., however, it became clear Ehburun was not possible; a second round was necessary. For those who were absolutely convinced that an outright majority was possible, it was a massive blow. The cloud of disappointment made it difficult to see the result for the success it was.

In 2008, when MDP contested the first ever democratic elections in the Maldives, Gayoom took the lead with 40.34% in the first round. It took a coalition with ‘everyone but Maumoon’ to defeat him in the second round with 53.6%. After three years of democratic government, a coup, and a relentless campaign to restore democracy later, MDP has more popular support than Gayoom had after 30 years of government.

But the lessons learned in those three decades are proving hard for many to unlearn. 25% of the electorate still prefer the ‘order’ of Gayoom’s authoritarian rule to the ‘chaos’ of democracy. For those three decades, Gayoom told people what to think, how to behave, what to believe in, what to smile about, how many tears are proper to shed in a given tragedy. Development projects were left to his whim, implemented ad hoc based on what best served his personal and political interests at any given time.

To have that replaced with a leader who told them to think for themselves, allowed them freedom of expression, and largely replaced the entrenched system of patronage with policies that did not require personal hand-outs from the Dear Leader came as a shock to many. This is evident from the fact that a quarter of the population would rather believe what Gayoom tells them rather than their own eyes – a prime example of this being the acceptance of the coup as ‘not a coup’ despite the whole affair being broadcast live on television.

Gayoom dominated Yameen’s campaign so much it was often hard to discern which of them was the candidate. The confusion was no accident——Gayoom told people that a vote for Yameen was really a vote for him. It was not Yameen that received the 25 percent vote on Saturday but Gayoom, and it is Gayoom who is yet again going for a face-off with Nasheed on 28 September.

Who is likely to win? Yameen said at a press conference yesterday that he is very confident he can win with a sixty percent majority by forming strategic alliances. It is unlikely, however, that an ‘everyone but Nasheed’ coalition like the ‘every one but Gayoom’ one of five years ago can be formed now.

There is very little chance, for instance, that anybody would want Candidate No.2, incumbent Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik to be a part of any alliance. Waheedh set a world record on Saturday, winning only 10,750 votes (5%)—the lowest vote received by any sitting president in the world. Waheed is a clear liability. (A local online paper, Times.mv just reported that a Waheed supporter who had put his heart and soul as well as his fortune into supporting Waheed has lost his mind after seeing the five percent result.)

Moreover, in the unlikely event that anyone is desperate enough to want Waheedh, he may be difficult to locate. In the two days since the election, Dr Waheedh has failed to make any public appearance, and speculation is rife among the electorate that he may have ‘fled’ the country, a penchant he has been known for throughout his political career.

DRP, once the second largest party is no more, having been led to non-existence by the personal ambitions of its indebted leader Thasmeen Ali who chose to become the running mate of Waheedh who, party-less, ran as an independent. Thasmeen may well have a set a world record too—have you heard of any other leader of a significant political party with over 20,000 members becoming the running mate of an independent candidate with no supporters? Thasmeen’s move left DRP members adrift. Half of them refused to vote for Waheed or their leader, leaving no doubt about what they think of Thasmeen and the has-been DRP.

The other possible partner is Adhaalath Party, the rent-a-sheikh organisation which calls itself an Islamic party. After much to-ing and fro-ing between PPM and JP in the lead up to the elections, Adhaalath decided in June to support Qasim as their man to ‘Defend Islam’. PPM, it said, was not good enough. Gayoom was an apostate, said the ‘mullahs’. Despite this, it is possible that Adhaalath may still form an alliance with PPM, such is Adhaalath’s lack of any beliefs or principles it is unwilling to sacrifice for political gain. It will make a decision later tonight.

The most likely alliance for Yameen is with Qasim, the multi-millionaire candidate No.1 who came a close third. Although Qasim is contesting the election results in court, saying he ‘should have come first’, Yameen appears keen to form a coalition with him. He said at yesterday’s press conference that he saw nothing wrong with Qasim making large ‘donations’ to various island schools and other institutes days before the election, and denied any knowledge of wrongdoing by Qasim.

“I didn’t see that happening. If it [bribery] had happened, those responsible for stopping it would have stopped it, no? I didn’t see. It’s not a problem for ACC [Anti-Corruption Commission], it’s not a problem for Elections Commission. So, I don’t think any such thing happened. It’s not up to political parties to uphold the country’s laws and protect people’s rights, is it? It will only be an offence if those responsible find it an offence, no? I think that even on 28 September, it is permissible for everyone to give anything they can.”

While it is not clear what sort of alliance Yameen will form, what is absolutely certain is that he cannot win without one.

Nasheed is aiming for the exact opposite: MDP will not form any coalitions under any circumstances. A presidential system as in the Maldives is unsuitable for a coalition and will only result in arrested development. Divvying up the cabinet among coalition parties, like the current ‘Coalition government’ did, would obstruct progress, he told journalists at a press conference yesterday. MDP will, however, welcome members of other parties who want to join the MDP and work towards implementing MDP’s manifesto.

Nasheed is confident it will happen, and that MDP will win ‘handsomely’ in the next round. There are already reports that several prominent figures in the has-been DRP are intending to join MDP soon. Nasheed oiled the rumour mill by hinting that several PPM figures, as well as some members of Gayoom’s extended family, are ready to go yellow.

Asked yesterday when MDP would re-launch its campaign for the second round, he replied, ‘Today. Now.’ It kicked off in true MDP-style yesterday evening at Raalhugan’du, attended by over 12,000 people yet again. ‘There are more people here tonight than there were at the parade on Friday, and even more than there were at the last big rally on Thursday night,’ an MDP organiser said last night.

It was, indeed a massive crowd. The new rallying call, replacing the popular Ehburun, is ‘Kuriah Kuriah, Baarah Kuriah’ [Forward, forward, fast forward].

A lot can happen in the next three weeks.

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