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Maldives Presidency 2013: Is Addu lost to the opposition?

Male', Maldives.
As civic opposition to President Nasheed and his corrupt government escalates, a question on many people's mind is, "Who will be the next President?".

Opposition leaders in the Maldives at present are a mix of failed presidential candidates, emerging young orators, religious scholars and, of course, defeated ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and former members of his cabinet. Within MDP ranks, hardliners and young leaders jockey for position, perhaps under the thinking that the failed MDP government would need a new mask to contest Presidency 2013.

Regardless of which individuals emerge as candidates for Presidency 2013, there is no escaping that Addu Atoll, the country's southern most atoll, represents the deciding vote in the upcoming elections. With a registered population of over 30,000, owning over 70% of private businesses in Maldives, controlling over 50% of local investment in the tourism industry, Adduans represent the most influential group over any national election in the country. This is more than evident in both rounds of the 2008 Presidential Election, which saw the majority of Addu voters line up against the President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Addu Atoll has traditionally been the intellectual and financial leader in the southern atolls, even leaving aside the events of the Suvadive Revolution. What is more important is that the influence of Addu on election results is not solely on Addu voters, or not even on "Southern voters", but on the whole national electorate, given their financial power and employment power as a regional group over the lives the Maldivian citizenry.

Given this situation, any supporter of a regime change in 2013 will no doubt be alarmed at the lack luster support for the opposition in Addu. The latest evidence of this is the minimal participation by the civic protest in Addu on December 23, 2011. For an atoll which is noted for its large numbers and violence at its protests and demonstrations, the December 23rd civic protest had only a sprinkling of civilians, and fizzled out very fast. This stands out in stark contrast to the over 20,000 mass of civilians who called for Nasheed's resignation at Victory Square that same day.

President Nasheed has been very successful at building up an MDP followership in Addu, not least by pumping millions of dollars into a a useless garish monument, the Equatorial Convention Centre (ECC), for the SAARC Summit. Even the protest against the Pakistani monument depicting Budhdha and other idols was left to a handful of Adduans, the rest happily basking in the limelight of the SAARC summit. What is most surprising is that the huge government debts to the Addu general populace accumulated by the Nasheed government during the course of the SAARC Summit for guest accommodation, on land transport, entertainment and other services, have not taken away an iota of the blind support of the despot by such an educated populace such as Addu.

Nasheed's Addu vote in the second round of 2008 Presidential Elections was claimed by Dr. Hassan Saeed, failed presidential candidate and leader of Qaumee Party, who aligned himself with Nasheed for the second round. However, Dr. Saeed's pulling power, and those of his party's top leadership (fellow Adduans such as QP Vice President Imad Solih), in Addu do not appear to be much in the light of their failure to stage a significant protest in Addu on December 23.

Even the biggest opposition party, Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP), can be seen to be flailing in the Hithadhoo swamp post EEC and post the Addu City Council fiasco. DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali (together with coalition partner Qaumee Party Leader Dr. Hassan Saeed) made the massive mistake of opposing the declaration of Addu Atoll as city. Their gross miscalculation of the strength (or lack thereof) of party loyalty when pitted against atoll fervor ("wathanee" fervor) has made DRP and its coalition almost irrelevant to Addu politics. DRP's recent alliance to the MDP Addu breakaway faction sequestered under Dr. Mohamed Munawwar (a fellow Adduan and failed candidate against Nasheed at the MDP primaries for the presidential elections 2008) does not appear to have gained it much support in Addu.

In 2010, DRP also lost one of the rising stars in current MDP politics, Addu Atoll Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy, previously a staunch Gayoom supporter. Alhan Fahmy showed his (and Addu) voter muscle during the MDP party elections 2011, by contesting against Nasheed's pet stooges Aslam Shakir and Mohamed Aslam, cruising to a comfortable victory as Vice President. The same scenario was repeated in Dr. Ibrahim Didi's (another Adduan) convincing defeat of Nasheed's stooge, his 'Advisor" Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, for the post of MDP President. Thus, MDP leadership was rapidly recolored as an Addu leadership, showing Nasheed quite clearly where MDP strength lay in the country's landscape.

The third strongest party in the country, ex-President Gayoom's breakaway faction of DRP, People's Progressive Party, is also quire irrelevant in Addu Politics, lacking even a single Addu representative on its Council. Gayoom's addition of Dhaandhoo's Dr. Saud, as one of his nominated member's of the PPM Council will do little to pull in Addu support to PPM. PPM will needs a very strong campaign to battle the strong resentment amongst Adduans towards Gayoom, for their perceived years of under development during the 30 years of the Gayoom regime. Although Gayoom was very successful in recapturing Addu in 2007/2008 through the use of Addu businessman such as DIMS Solih, Sunland Hilmy and even Dr Hassan Saeed, Gayoom failed miserably to turn this into actual votes in the 2008 Presidential elections.

Gasim Ibrahim, leader of Jumhooree (Republican) Party, is reported to have a significant support base in Addu, especially Hithadhoo. However, this remains to be seen at the polls, with Gasim lagging far behind in the Addu vote in the 2008 Presidential Elections.

This leaves Adhaalath Party to pull in Addu support to the opposition. Again, their voter strength in Addu is questionable, especially in the light of Nasheed's success in turning Adduans in the Adhaalath leadership to his own party, MDP.

Coming days will tell which way Addu will go, as partisan lines are drawn between Nasheed and the loose 'coalition' of opposing parties following the massives civic protest against Nasheed and his corrupt government on December 23, 2011 in Victory Square, Male'.

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