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Maldives Presidency 2013: Has the opposition died even before it was born?

Male', Maldives.

As events unfold after the historic civic protest against President Nasheed and his corrupt government, rivalry and bickering between individual opposition leaders has lost the Maldivian civic movement a golden opportunity to capitalize on its grassroots strength.

The predicted rising of a strong opposition from the ground base of their collaboration in the December 23rd civic protest has failed to materialize. In fact, it has crash landed, as the largest opposition party, Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) and its breakaway faction under erstwhile leader and ex President Gayoom, Progressive Party of Maldive (PPM) once again enter into public bickering and finger pointing. In separate media conferences last night, each party blamed the other for yesterday's notable victory by Nasheed in the Parliament. The Parliament yesterday passed the Nasheed government's controversial bill on loans and guarantees for the upcoming year, a bill which allegedly seeks parliament approvals for loans and guarantees to hard core MDP supporters and financiers.

PPM accused DRP of collaborating with MDP to extend the Parliament session till the bill was passed, accusing DRP Leader Thasmeen Ali and his business partner Abdulla Shahid (Speaker of Parliament) of rigging the session and vote so that the bill could be passed. Both Thasmeen Ali and Abdulla Shahid are mired in a quagmire of debt and corruption allegations, having accepted millions of dollars from GMR for support to approve its Hulhulhe Airport lease.

These events give Maldivians a stark reminder that there really is no hope of DRP or PPM saving them from Nasheed's despotic regime in 2013 or even earlier. PPM, while ballooning rapidly into the third strongest opposition party in terms of membership, can only show failed President Gayoom supported by a group of second graders in its front line. Gayoom's younger half-brother Abdulla Yameen, while respected as a capable individual for his economic expertise, has little public support as evidenced by the failure of his own party People's Alliance to gain strength.

This leaves behind a sprinkling of smaller opposition parties, the most notable of which are Gasim Ibrahim's Jumhooree Party (JP) and the religo-socialist Adhaalath Party. Dr. Hassan Saeed's Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and Dr. Mohamed Munavvar's Maldives Reform Movement (MRM), both of whom have boarded the sinking DRP, are insignificant as compared the JP and Adhaalath. Gasim Ibrahim, a respected businessman and philanthropist, has a strong grass roots following on a personal basis. However, his party JP too has not managed to convert Gasim's personal following into a party followership or membership.

Events in the past, including the GMR affair, give credence to the speculation amongst political thinkers that DRP will soon enter into coalition with MDP, in readiness for a joint bid for the Presidency in 2013. This is very likely as DRP Leader Thasmeen Ali will not find allies in PPM or Jumhooree Party. Both Yaameen and Gasim exited DRP due to strong disagreements with the then Party Leader Gayoom over his favoring of Thasmeen Ali to carry his baton into the next term.

The more likely scenario then could be an an opposition coalition between Jumhooree Party (JP), Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)and Adhaalath Party (AP). This group showed a small spurt of defiance last week by appearing together on a popular political program on VTV. The program was led by JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim, who warned Nasheed that he would not stand by and let Nasheed destroy the country.

However, President Nasheed acted quickly to stamp out the JP fire by taking harsh illegal action against JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim's tourist resorts and aviation business operations. Gasim Ibrahim was able to force Nasheed to back down by taking the matter to courts. However, it was evident from the events surrounding Nasheed's intimidatory attack on his political opponent, that Gasim Ibrahim has minimal support from his fellow opposition members. And more noteworthy, the tourism and media magnate received absolutely no support from the rest of the business community.

The year 2011 has been marked waves of public bickering between leaders of the opposition and short episodic displays of collaborative action amongst them. The December 23rd civic protest, which amassed over 20,000 civilians under its Islamic banner, managed to bring together these rivals on the centrist platform of Islam and nation. However, in the span of the week following the protest, opposition leaders have been unable to bring other common issues onto the coalition platform.

A timely issue that could have been introduced onto the platform was perhaps the economy, an issue of great concern to the common populace. However, Nasheed's massive 2012 budget was passed by Parliament (Majlis) albeit with amendments. The failure in this was because DRP/PPM could not agree on a common platform.

What remains now is for JP or Adhaalath to take the centrist moderation position from which to bring together rivaling opposition parties. The emerging PPM should cast aside its glory seeking aspirations and accept the reality that Gayoom will not be able to amass enough votes to win in a solo bid for the presidency. True enough, the ex-President probably commands the single largest following amongst Maldivians. However, this would not be near enough to win PPM 51% in the first round of Presidency 2011.

Adhaalath Party's leadership is highly unlikely to support a Gayoom bid, given the religious differences between the Adhaalath leadership and Gayoom's religious policies during his regime.

In contrast, Gasim Ibrahim has more centrist stands on all issues, giving him the opportunity to talk and collaborate with the rest of bickering opposition parties and groups. Time will tell whether the JP Leader will be able to take this opportunity to spearhead a legitimate solution to end Nasheed's increasingly manic government.

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