Presidential election deadlock mires Maldives in political infighting

Monday, 21 October 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Uditha Jayasinghe in Male Maldives sank further into political disarray after attempts to hold a second round of presidential elections were thwarted by police, plunging the Indian Ocean group of islands into deeper political infighting amid calls for President Waheed’s arrest. Former Maldives President Mohammad Nasheed has called for the arrest of incumbent Maldives President Waheed and appealed for greater assistance from the international community after a second round of polling was disrupted on 19 October. The vote cancellation sparked protests in Male where Nasheed also staged a sit-in calling for a revote. He insisted there is no possibility of having free and fair presidential elections as long as President Waheed’s government is in power and opined that control should be handed over to the Speaker of Parliament to oversee the instalment of a new Head of State. “Basically I’m calling for his (Waheed’s) resignation and for him to face justice. I would hope that the international community would understand this and I also do hope that the Maldives military and police understand what I am talking about. I’m still hoping that Dr. Waheed will gracefully resign today or tomorrow,” Nasheed told reporters. Following his resignation Waheed should be arrested and tried for his involvement in ousting Nasheed, in what the former president says was a coup, and thwarting elections laid out in the Constitution. “We must isolate Waheed. He has instigated and gotten away with a coup, he’s nullified a fresh round of elections, obstructed a very peaceful second round of elections by the Elections Commissioner and he obstructed another election last night; the list goes on.” Nasheed bagged an impressive 45.45% of the vote during elections that were held on 7 September while Waheed limped home with only 5%. The humiliating defeat prompted Waheed to bow out of presidential elections leaving three candidates in the fray. However, the results were later annulled by the Supreme Court verdict after third placed candidate tycoon Gasim Ibrahim lodged a case alleging mass scale vote rigging despite international monitors saying polling was free and fair. A second round of voting that should have taken place on 28 September fell apart due to Gasim’s case, which was also supported by second placed candidate former autocratic leader Gayoom’s half-brother MP Abdulla Yamin. The Supreme Court then ruled that vote rigging took place based on a secret report compiled by the police and issued a 16 point guideline for elections tabled for 19 October. But that too was derailed after Gasim and Yamin refused to sign off on an all-important electoral list and police blocked the distribution of ballot papers to 200 odd islands. Police Spokesman Abdulla Nawaz defended the disruption pointing out that an election held in violation of the Supreme Court guidelines would be “unlawful.” “Maldives police service has in fact requested to the Elections Commission that police are having difficulties in supporting them in the polls. It is mainly because the Supreme Court ruling and guideline which states that all 16 points must be done,” Nawaz noted adding that support has been extended to the Elections Commission where possible. There is now just 14 days to go before a constitutionally mandated handover of power on 11 November but a president is yet to be selected. “What is happening in this country is very sad. It is very difficult to see how we will be able to overcome the challenges that we have but we refuse to give up hope and we would want to continue with our struggle and we will continue till we have a government that is elected by the people of the Maldives,” said Nasheed who remains the only democratically elected president of the Maldives. Nasheed pledged to continue pushing for elections with the help of the people and international community and even went to the extent of asking for ballot boxes to be delivered by an outside party. The US, United Nations and Commonwealth have called for elections while India rushed their Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to Male last week to have discussions with the candidates and President Waheed in the hope of putting a lid on the political infighting. “What more honourable request can a country make other than to facilitate a peaceful election? We are not asking to bomb someone. We are simply asking to look after the (ballot) boxes, let the people of the Maldives decide what they want. It is exactly why we are in the international family,” Nasheed added stressing that direct involvement should not be viewed negatively. The former president believes that instability in the Maldives is a security threat for the entire Indian Ocean, which should be offset by increased engagement from India, US, Commonwealth and the United Nations. Nonetheless, the international community has so far done little more than issue statements calling for the democratic process to be resumed and for candidates to accept the results of a presidential election. It is also unlikely, analysts say, that the trio of Gasim, Wahid and Yamin would welcome involvement from the international community with the incumbent President openly telling international parties to respect the sovereignty of the Maldives last month. “Irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations would not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country,” President Waheed said in a statement after the international community called for polling on 28 September in accordance with the Maldives Constitution. The open animosity between Nasheed and Waheed makes attempts to scramble together an election in a last ditch effort to meet the Constitutional deadline of 11 November extremely difficult, analysts believe. Nasheed was already accused his rivals of attempting to move into a “military government” by undermining the electoral process. Waheed nevertheless has instructed Elections Commissioner Fuad Thoufeek to consult the three candidates Nasheed, Gasim and Yamin to come up with a new date for what would be a record third attempt to elect a president. But Thoufeek himself faces questions on credibility with Yamin’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) accusing him of bias towards Nasheed. “We have no confidence in the Elections Commissioner and believe that he should step aside but given the current time frame it is unrealistic to replace the Elections Commission,” PPM Women’s Wing leader and Maldives Foreign Minister Dunya Mamoon told Daily FT. In contrast to its pristine beaches the Maldives, mired in political power plays, heads towards turbulent waters in November with little hope for an idyllic outcome.