#Maldives: Addu - all hype, different vote? A look at Addu’s voting history in multi-party democracy.

Male’, Maldives.
As President Mohamed Waheed completes his first official trip to Addu Atoll, his political opponents claim all Addu Atoll is with them. Addu City Council lent credence to this claim by passing a resolution earlier this week, denouncing the National Unity Government as unconstitutional. President Waheed completed his visit amidst substantial support, significant at a time that Addu is still reeling from arson and vandalism by supporters of Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned from his post as President early this month. Nasheed had even warned President Waheed not to even attempt to step onto Addu soil.

Addu is a crucial voting bloc in any elections in the country, a fact evidenced by voting history and acknowledged by all political parties. Unfortunately, Addu has also a dubious reputation of being for sale in any vote. With its distinct dialect and close knit society, Addu has a history of seeking self-recognition, in competition with the more politically powerful Male’. The rivalry between Addu and Male’ spans the political, economic and social histories of the country, with Male’ refusing to secede political control to Addu. Addu voting patterns show the influence of this sub-ethnic political philosophy, with Addu born candidates receiving blanket support by a segment of the Addu electorate. Little does the average Male’ citizen or the Adduan realize that, if one were to trace kinship links, many of the country’s leaders hail from Addu lineages, Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to name a couple.

Both Waheed and Nasheed have acknowledged Addu’s importance to their current political battle for the Presidency, by making it the field of their first confrontation outside Male’. While President Waheed completed his visit with a pledge to rebuild the massive losses Addu suffered at the hands of Nasheed’s rioting supporters, Nasheed sought to harness the Addu vote by announcing that his next Vice President would be an Adduan. Senior MDP sources reveal that Nasheed’s candidate for Vice President is MDP’s Addu MP Mohamed Aslam, an educationalist popular in the northern electoral constituency of Hithadhoo Island.

Unfortunately for Nasheed, his Addu VP announcement backfired on him, losing support in Addu and in the North. It was received with derision even from some of his hardcore supporters from Addu. “Adduans don’t have to rely on a VP nomination by Nasheed”, one influential MDP lawyer from Addu said, “when an Adduan can win the presidential nomination in any MDP primary”. Others say that, given the age-old rivalry between the larger Hithadhoo and the more educated Meedhoo, Aslam’s nomination may cost Nasheed the Meedhoo vote. It may also cost Nasheed whatever support he has from Feydhoo, the home of MDP Vice President and MP Alhan Fahmy, who has publicly stated his ambition for the top leadership of the country.

A look at Addu’s voting history in multi-party elections shows that anyone who believes all Addu is united, and that it is fully with Nasheed, may get a rude awakening when voting results are announced. The most obvious evidence is seen from recent events of 2006-2008. During this period, Addu was show in media as a hotbed of MDP thugs, with arson and vandalism on much larger scales than recently. MDP obstructed all visits by Gayoom’s Government or his party Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party, leading to injuries to individual citizens and damages to public and private property.

Just as Nasheed last week threatened Waheed, so did he with Gayoom, saying that Gayoom would not be able to set foot on Addu soil. As with Waheed, Gayoom too went to Addu, toured all the islands, and apparently came back with the Addu vote.

Gayoom secured a substantial 28% (4,034 votes) of the Addu vote in Round 1 of the 2008 Presidential Elections, almost double the 2066 votes (14%) obtained by Nasheed. Gayoom lost Addu not to Nasheed, but to native Adduan Hassan Saeed who swept Addu ahead of Gayoom with 43% (6,204 votes). MDP, which had boasted of a united Addu behind Nasheed, trailed in 4th place, behind even Jumhooree Party (Gasim Ibrahim).

The opposition win in Addu in Round 2 was solely due to Dr. Saeed and Gasim Ibrahim, who together brought in over 7,000 additional votes which gave them 66% of the Addu vote vs. Gayoom’s 34%. Of significance is that, even with a combined opposition, Gayoom managed a 20% gain in his Addu support in Round 2.

Nay sayers claim that the Addu picture has much changed by 2012, now that Nasheed has held the SAARC Summit in Addu and gifted it with a vast exhibition centre, repaired roads and the promise of atoll wide water and sewerage systems. Others point to MDP’s total victory in the Addu City Council Elections, where MDP took all seats. Still others say that the millions in unpaid bills owed to Addu private citizens by the Nasheed administration after the SAARC Summit will make any Adduan think twice before voting for Nasheed.

Senior MDP Adduans acknowledge that, with Dr. Saeed once again in the picture, supported by popular Addu youngsters like Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and former Secretary General of SAARC Dhiyana Saeed, MDP is likely to be beaten in any Addu vote today. Adduans, they say, are educated thinking people who will cast an intelligent vote.

“Addu will not vote for strife. The rioters on the street represent only a fraction of the Addu vote” one prominent Addu politician said. “Addu’s tourism interests are huge and those in tourism jobs are too many. Addu will vote for its own progress and the national economy. MDP failed on the economy”, he said.

An analysis of the much acclaimed MDP victory in the Addu City Council Elections gives some credence to claims that Addu is not united behind MDP. The overall results show that, with a 12,378 voter turnout, MDP had slid down to 56% of the vote (vs. 66% in Round 2, 2008), while DRP had gained with 38% (vs. 34%). The balance 6% was taken by Adaalath Party and independents. Addu voter turnout it 2008 Round 2 was 14,726.

An analysis of individual ballot box results shows that, compared to Round 2, in 2011 Gayoom/DRP still retained its core voter base in Feydhoo and Hithadhoo South, while gaining in Maradhoo and Meedhoo. MDP edged ahead with a bare 50% in both Feydhoo and Hithadhoo South. Interestingly, Meedhoo, Hithadhoo Central/South and Feydhoo were where Gayoom made the biggest gains in Addu between Rounds 1 and 2.

Voting details of the 2009 Parliamentary elections were not publicly available for analysis. However, the distribution of Addu seats bears evidence that the Gayoom/DRP was indeed stronger in Feydhoo and Hithadhoo South.

Comparison of the three available election results shows that Gayoom/DRP, throughout 2008-2011, retains a solid 4000+ voter base in Addu, while MDP fluctuates between 2000+ and 6000+. The Round 2 result cannot be directly compared as the winning team was a coalition which included an Addu candidate who won the Addu vote with a substantial margin in Round 1.

In the final analysis, Addu’s voting history does not bode well for Nasheed in Addu as seen above. With the inception of Gayoom’s new party, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the DRP voter base will no doubt be split with perhaps the greater numbers lining up behind Gayoom. However, DRP’s coalition with Dr. Saeed’s party, Dhivehi Qaumee Party, gives it the strongest position in Addu today. Neither of PPM's top presidency candidates, Umar Naseer and Abdulla Yameen, have much support in Addu. In contrast, Gasim Ibrahim retains a solid support base, reportedly in Hithadhoo and Meedhoo. The acid test for Nasheed may come sooner than later should Addu (Maradhoo) MDP MP Hassan Adil lose his seat as a result of a criminal conviction for child molestation.

An Adduan vice president nomination may not yield Nasheed the support that Dr. Saeed was able to leverage for Nasheed in 2008. This is not least because of the nation’s experience of Nasheed’s treatment of his VP in his last period in office. The then VP Mohamed Waheed was shown as largely redundant and a nominal post.

As Adduans themselves note, Addu has eligible candidates who can do much better than warm a VP’s chair for Nasheed.