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Maldives Civic Coalition: a serious challenge to Nasheed's Presidency?

Male' Maldives.

As events pan out 24 hours after the biggest civic protest in the history of the Maldives, many wonder whether the organizing coalition of the December 23rd protest could be a serious challenge to Mohamed Nasheed's Presidency. Media estimates that over 20,000 civilians participated in the 8 hour protest at Victory Square, Male', against President Nasheed and his corrupt government.

Although prior to the protest, the Civic Protest leaders consistently reiterated that there was no political motivation or objective in the protest, individual leaders made several references to political objectives during their addresses to the thousands of civilians gathered at their call.

Speaking to thundering applause by the protesters, Shaikh Ilyas Hussain stated that politics and religion cannot be separated. The very thought of making such a separation is a though to weaken and destabilize religion, he said. Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, a youthful and charismatic orator, is emerging as a highly popular leader with a significant following amongst the populace. Shaikh Ilyas' public lectures are attended by hundreds at any given time.

PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer also received vocal united support by the protestors, to his statement that "We know that even the slightest indication against the Government from this podium will be immediately acted upon by you", alluding to direct action against President Nasheed. Since his failed bid at the presidency in 2008, Umar Naseer has built up a large highly active following amongst the populace in Male' and in the islands. Analysts say Umar Naseer is the militant street leader acting as the magnet to coalesce ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's hard core followers. It is to be noted that Umar Naseer was the only presidential candidate who did not join Nasheed's coalition during the Presidential Elections 2008.

Umar Naseer's militant statement was restated to even greater mass support by Adhaalath Party Leader, Shaikh Imran Abdullah. However, Shaikh Imran noted that the objective of the current protest was not that, perhaps a veiled warning to Nasheed that a further protest could be gathered for that purpose. Shaikh Imran and other leaders of the Adhaalath Party are gaining immense public support since their walk out from the ruling MDP Coalition Government, on the basis of objection to Nasheed's "anti-Islam" policies. It cannot be denied that Adhaalath Party also has political ambition, given their past coalition with MDP in which they demanded one cabinet post 9that of Religious Affairs Minister).

Jumhooree Party leader, Gasim Ibrahim, also stirred the huge gathering with his call for the public to stand up and exercise their democratic rights. Gasim called upon the Nasheed Government and Maldives Police and Military Forces not to intimidate the protesters, assuring them that the protest would end peacefully. Gasim, another failed presidential candidate, is acknowledged to have been the primary person who leveraged the additional votes that won Nasheed his victory at the second round of the Presidential Elections, 2008. Nasheed's first Home Minister, and ex-President Gayoom's Finance Minister for a time, Gasim has so far not joined the new Gayoom coalition under PPM.

Leader of Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP), still the largest opposition party in the country, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali drew massive support from the crowd with his pledge to join DRP to the "fight to protect Islam". Thasmeen raised nationalistic fervor amongst the gathered masses with his statement of renewing the memories of Maldivian heroes martyred in the defense of Islam.

Other political leaders who spoke at the protest include ex-PA leader Abdulla Yaameen, ex-Labour Party leader Saleem and Gaumee Party Leader Dr. Hassan Saeed. Notable amongst those missing from the protest was Dr. Mohamed Munawwar, leader of the Maldives Reform Party. The MRP recently joined in coalition with the DRP.

It remains to be seen how lasting the collaboration between these rival political parties would be, especially should the Civic Coalition take on a more activist stand. The Coalition has announced that it would give the Nasheed Government time to accede to its 5 demands, while at the same time giving strong veiled threats about direct action should the demands not be met.

Certainly, DRP/Gaumee Party would make uneasy bed partners with PPM, the breakaway faction of DRP under ex-President Gayoom. The acrimony and distrust between PPM and DRP/Gaumee Party could even disrupt the coalition in days to come, as both jockey for lead position alongside Adhaalath Party.

Additionally, Adhaalath Party was also in conflict with Gayoom regime's religious policies and is highly unlikely to support Gayoom in a presidency race. At this moment in time, PPM, which became the third largest opposition party in record time, appears to be promoting its leader Gayoom as its presidential candidate for 2013.

Although the huge numbers at the Civic Protest and the discipline showed by those gathered in following the coalition leadership's requests to the letter may ring alarm bells for President Nasheed's presidency, only coming days will tell whether these would be serious threats to his re-election bid in 2013.

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