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Maldives in Constitutional Crisis: Umar Naseer emerging as the best option for PPM

Male', Maldives.
President Nasheed’s continued interference with the Judiciary created a wealth of opportunities for the opposition. However, for many reasons, not least one of which is interparty rivalry, the opposition has not been able to capitalize on these until a few days ago, when popular activist Umar Naseer joined the protest. Umar Naseer entered the fray a few days ago, turning around flagging civic protests with drive, injection of new activists and proper organization.

Umar Naseer is the country’s foremost activist against the Nasheed regime, leading street protests against President Nasheed even as Nasheed took oath of office. This was a long time before other political parties took opposing stands.

Umar Naseer has rejuvenated the current seemingly aimless civic protests with concrete demands and brought a measure of organization to the protests. One of the most popular opposition politicians today, Umar Naseer has increased participation at the nightly protests while at the same time turning around growing dissatisfaction amongst a segment of the Male' public about the disruption of business in the capital city.

The civic protests were sparked by President Nasheed's unconstitutional arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, a Senior Judge of the Criminal Court, for his court order for Maldives Police to release opposition politician Dr. Ahmed Jameel Mohamed from their illegal arrest.

Speaking on Villa TV last night, Umar Naseer said that, "A dangerous dictator has hijacked our democracy. When such a situation arises, it is time for the people to come out. This is what we are seeing now. Citizens are out on the street to stop this [dictator]. I call upon all citizens to come out and end this now, or we may have to regret it."

Umar Naseer has sustained his vocal opposition to Nasheed’s regime, in the process building up a substantive activist following first in Male’, later in the islands. He brought this activist following over to PPM when he put his weight behind ex-President Gayoom to form a new party. Indeed, it would be fair to say that PPM exists as a party primarily due to Umar Naseer’s determination and activist following.

Although several politicians joined Gayoom in his new party, such as People’s Alliance (PA) Leader Abdulla Yaameen (Gayoom’s younger half-brother) and some other DRP and PA MPs, it was Umar Naseer’s organizational ability which built the PPM public support and his ground forces which comprised the bulk of PPM’s initial membership. From this basis, PPM has been built up jointly by Gayoom and Naseer in Male’ and the islands to be the strongest party in opposition today.

As the operational head of PPM, Umar Naseer commands his own people combined with Gayoom’s loyalist following. This makes Umar Naseer a very dangerous force to reckon with for any political opponent.

In the current situation where opposition parties are eyeing each other for possible coalition partners, it is pertinent to remember that it was Umar Naseer, as Leader of his own political party Islamic Democratic Party (IDP), who convinced Adhaalath Party (AP) to join him in a tripartite coalition with President Nasheed’s militant party Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) in 2007/2008. The initial coalition was between IDP and AP, which the MDP later joined. Two more parties joined the coalition, termed the National Unity Alliance. This coalition with Umar Naseer and AP lent MDP a credibility it could not have otherwise received amongst the general populace. Indeed, the National Unity Alliance helped to create the political relevancy for MDP upon which Nasheed built his presidential candidacy.

A further point to consider is that, even then, Umar Naseer stood for very strong democratic bases. At that critical juncture in building a viable challenge to Gayoom in 2008, Umar Naseer proposed that the IDP/AP/MDP coalition should follow the democratic process of a triparty primary to elect a presidential candidate to lead its bid for the presidency.

Fearful that Umar would win any such triparty primary, Nasheed refused to hold such a primary, arguing that, as the party with the larger membership amongst the three coalition partners, an MDP candidate should automatically contest the presidential elections on behalf of the coalition. Refusing to bend to this undemocratic demand by MDP, and after a protracted and bitter fight in which he was threatened by MDP leaders and thugs, Umar Naseer chose to lead his IDP out of the coalition. Only with his exit was the MDP was able to convince AP that it would lead the coalition with a presidential candidate elected from within its own ranks.

This same issue was the root cause of Umar Naseer’s exit from Gayoom’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP). Umar Naseer joined DRP at the invitation of Gayoom, who hoped to rejuvenate his monolithic and inactive party, by infusing it with the highly popular activist leader and his supporters. Naseer joined the party not knowing that, at the time, unbeknownst to him and even the DRP Council, Gayoom had sold out the DRP Leadership to one of his deputy’s, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali. Gayoom’s agreement with Thasmeen Ali was to step aside in the aftermath of his 2008 defeat, nominating Thasmeen as his successor. DRP’s bylaws were such that, an uncontested bid by Thasmeen for the party leadership would result in his automatic endorsement.

Gayoom very openly swindled Naseer, first by convincing him not to contest Thasmeen Ali in 2010, and then in pressurizing him to withdraw an amendment to amend the DRP by-laws to make it mandatory for the DRP to elect a presidential candidate by the democratic process of an internal primary. Outplayed by the Gayoom/Thasmeen Ali duo in 2010, Umar Naseer got his revenge by becoming the catalyst for the legal battle between Gayoom and Thasmeen, which forced Gayoom to either form a new party or to force the DRP to another party election.

Now, with Gayoom dependent upon him for both party administration and party activism, there is little doubt that Umar Naseer is clearly the more popular individual to lead the PPM into the next elections. Although PPM Parliamentary Leader Abdulla Yaameen has announced that he would contest the PPM presidential candidate primary, Yaameen commands nowhere near the following that Umar Naseer commands within the PPM and outside. Yaameen’s joined the PPM with a couple of MPs and business partners, while Naseer brought in the thousands which today give PPM the political strength it commands.

Rumours abound about friction between Gayoom and Yaameen, with the former apparently reneging on an earlier promise to the latter of the PPM presidential candidacy in a private deal. Umar Naseer is rumored to be supporting Gayoom’s side, and has openly announced that he will contest Yaameen in the primaries.

An emerging political force like PPM has no need to try and push forward an unpopular candidate like Yameen, while it has all the more reason to bring to its top leadership a popular activist such as Umar Naseer with a strong history of alliance building with other parties. Umar Naseer would be better able to bridge the philosophical gap between PPM and Adhalath, having been the leader of a previous alliance with Adhaalath. Similarly, he has strong links with supporting parties such as Jumhooree Party and even Dhivehi Qaumee Party, whereas Yaameen has a history of friction and rivalry with these parties.

Indeed, PPM needs to get its presidential candidacy issue sorted out post haste if it is to position itself as the leader of a multiparty solution to the country’s constitutional crisis.

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