#Maldives Presidency 2013: Gayoom's PPM: A lost cause or potential winner?

Male', Maldives
Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed has lost all hopes of winning the Presidency 2013 in a free and fair election, as evidenced by his sustained persecution of his political opponents. A highly unpopular man even at the outset, Nasheed was carried into power by powerful business clans, foreign interests and clever vote rigging by his stooges in the Elections Commission.

The current situation has thrown into stark relief the same dilemma that Maldivians faced in 2008, and perhaps the preceding 3-4 presidential elections. Who can replace the incumbent? Certainly, not any individual from the current leadership of the MDP, tainted as they are from the MDP's dismal failure as a government. This leaves rival opposition parties and independents vying for a lead role in the run up to the presidency.

Perhaps the individual with the strongest personal following is ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In any election which picked a winner on the first past the post basis, Gayoom may win hands down. However, MDP has been highly successful in eroding his support base with blatant lies and unsubstantiated allegations, so much so that Gayoom's support base is much much weaker than in 2008 when he last contested the presidency. This means that, even Gayoom, were he to contest the Presidency 2013, has no hope of winning 51% without a coalition of partner(s) in the second round of the elections.

Leaving aside the personal animosity of Elections Commissioner towards Gayoom (for allegedly playing around with Fuad's wife Fathimath Riza eons back), the very structure of the presidential elections stacks the cards against any Gayoom re-bid for power. The reality is that, the Maldivian presidential elections is structured in a way that no single individual or party can win the presidency in the first round. This creates the space for smaller elites and business interests to tamper with the citizen's will, by ensuring that the winning candidate must represent a coalition of such interests. History has proven that Gayoom is unable to even bring together such a coalition of interests.

This evidence is written in the history of his lengthy tenure as president of the country, and in his inability to hold together his own party, Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party, the second largest party in the country today. Gayoom's presidential terms were marred by infighting between warring factions within his own family (Endherimaage and Kaamineege) and amongst his closest friends (Fathulla Jameel and Zahir Hussain). With the inception of a multiparty system into the country, Gayoom very decisively shrugged off his warring kin, pushed away his experienced cabinet to arms length, and brought close young ambitious vainglorious individuals (such as Dr. Hassan Saeed, Dr. Ahmed Shaheed, Mohamed Nasheed, Hilmy) who very successfully stabbed the ailing Gayoom presidency in the heart.

The same scenario was played out within the DRP. Warring family factions were pushed away and out of the party (Yaameen and his business gang), close family friends were forced out (Gasim Ibrahim and his followers), and a nondescript man with no following adopted as his running mate (Ahmed Thasmeen Ali). Where did this lead? Total and utter failure of a 30 year old regime first, ousted from his own party next, and the political wilderness last.

Gayoom's resurgence with Progressive Party of Maldives is perhaps a last ditch attempt to do what he should have done way in the past, say 1993? That is, mediate and resolve family wars, and ensure joint backing of one individual to replace him. However, even in this, it is evident that Gayoom's hunger for power and his fear of being replaced by others is holding him back from offering a real solution to the people of the Maldives.

A close look at PPM shows its front line to be filled with immature pre-schoolers engaging in verbal fights and fisticuffs at the drop of a hat. While this may be highly entertaining on cable TV, it certainly does not say much for PPM's capacity to form a government in 2013. If anything, PPM's podium tirades, excessive adulation of its interim leader Gayoom and comic antics on the parliamentary floor only prove that it lacks the political strength, intellectual capacity and experience to form a government in 2013.

Gayoom's position as PPM interim leader is propped up three key people: his half brother Abdulla Yaameen who brought in funds for the new party; his brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim, another financier of the party possibly in the interests of his nieces and nephews (his sister Nasreena and Gayoom's children), and the frontline activist Umar Naseer, rallying and holding together Gayoom's grassroots following in Male' and the islands.

This structure of PPM puts Gayoom into the tight position of having to choose a leader to contest the elections, of course assuming that Gayoom will have the intelligence not use this as an excuse to contest the elections himself, thereby dragging the fledgling PPM into the mud and mire of another thrashing.

PPM's future rides on Gayoom's decision on this issue. It will be a lost cause were Gayoom to contest himself, and even were he to select the wrong candidate. In the light of past history in Gayoom's DRP, there is no doubt that the candidate will be selected, and not elected by democratic means.

PPM can only turn itself into a potential winner if Gayoom can rally in an experienced and popular team from his previous government to lead the way for a younger line of succession. PPM is perhaps the only party that has such a solid line of experienced members although in the shadows at the moment.

However, whether PPM's current young upstarts will see beyond their own ambitions to step aside for such a team, and whether Gayoom can overcome his fear of being overshadowed by his team remains to be seen.