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#Maldives: Nasheed Vs. Waheed, a clash of Male'/Addu Vs. rest of the country?

Male', Maldives.
Yesterday's face-off between President Mohamed Waheed and his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed on the Male' streets ended with a victory for Waheed, but perhaps a victory that may be very temporary. Backed by an impressive display of people power over 50,000 strong, President Waheed condemned Nasheed's Maldives Democratic Party as terrorists, as enemies of the state. Alluding to the massive economic losses under Nasheed, Waheed warned that "There is no place for people who destroy our economy."

Clearly, public support was behind Waheed. The MDP Women's Protest staged yesterday afternoon to balance the scale was vastly outnumbered, mustering about a 1,000+ to the National Unity's 50,000. The maximum Nasheed had been able to gather at his rallies was just over 7,000, even including his supporters arriving from the islands.

However, what is most evident from the past two months of protests and rallies by all political parties, is that Nasheed holds the majority support in the capital, Male'. He is also the clear winner in the second largest urban centre, Addu Atoll.

However, the rest of the country is largely opposed to Nasheed, witness the undeniable evidence of yesterday's National Unity Rally over 50% of which represented the islands.

A further undeniable fact is that international support, both at government level and in the private business sector, is behind Nasheed.

Of critical importance to the Maldives is that these facts show the great divide in socio-political philosophy and thinking between Male' and Addu as opposed to the rest of the country. It also shows that Male'/Addu is more aligned with foreign interests and values instead of the general populace.

Populist thinking through the length and breath of the Maldives (excluding Male' and Addu) is for conservative governance which respects and upholds Islam while maintaining national sovereignty and cultural values. It is vehemently against Nasheed's central right philosophy which sold national assets to foreigners and attempted to dilute the religious base of society.

Stereotyping this populist political philosophy as Islamic extremism and xenophobia does the educated Maldivian public great injustice. Such stereotyping also serves to radicalize those at one end of the spectrum, providing opportunity for some to gain more supporters for hard-line policies under the guise of defending Islam. This bitter experience has been experienced in many Islamic societies in recent years, important lessons for Maldivians using Islam as a rallying point for political ambition and for those attempting to enforce Western style democracy with foreign support.

The coming week is crucial for both sides in the conflict. The Nasheed administration left the Maldives in nearly $1.5 billion in debt. International debts were at the point of default. Foreign investments entangled in the courts. Lucrative tourist deals were struck illegally. With not enough liquidity to even run his government, President Waheed will need foreign goodwill, public and private. Even his political allies would find it difficult to sustain the Government while financing a drawn out election campaign. The hard economic reality facing the National Unity Government is that an early election is an absolute necessity, a compromise position they must accept without losing their public support.

Nasheed, in contrast, has the golden opportunity to backtrack away from his death wish of an early election. The longer he waits, the greater the opportunities for the National Unity Government to fail in governance and within itself. Nasheed can easily bog down the Government in Parliament where he has a significant share. While President Waheed struggles to rescue the economy, to implement the social programs begun by Nasheed, to pass through required legislation, Nasheed and MDP can run riot in Male' and the islands gathering popular support.

Nasheed has clearly seen the immense possibilities in such a strategy, as seen by his statements last night. Beaten at the clash of the public rallies, he immediately moved the venue of conflict to the Parliament. Addressing his die-hard followers in Male' last night, Nasheed called upon them to engage in wide spread civil disobedience to prevent President Waheed from addressing Parliament at its opening session on March 1st. He called for protests to start throughout the country, a strategy MDP can implement very effectively as seen by the sweep of vandalism and arson through MDP strongholds on February 8th.

Holding up the Presidential State of the Nation address serves the dual purpose of delaying debate on a date for early elections. The thousands representing the islands at yesterday's National Unity Rally serve notice to Nasheed that every additional day is critical for him, in order to drum up support. His bid, two days back, to secure absolute supremacy in Addu Atoll through pledging the Vice President's post to an Adduan was highly successful. Over 800 Adduans joined MDP en masse yesterday. The Male' and Addu votes sounded the death knoll for Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008, and look likely to do the same for the National Unity coalition.

With limited options open to him, it will be interesting to see if President Waheed will take the path opened for him by his Home Minister Jameel and Nasheed's ex-Attorney General Diyana Saeed. Namely, to swiftly wipe out Nasheed's candidacy by prosecuting him for all manner of crimes and illegalities. However, such a move by President Waheed may alienate all foreign goodwill for all time. Hence, more likely may be a tried and true strategy, undertake such prosecutions by a private party, as successfully done in the recent case against Thimarafushi MP Mohamed Musthafa.

With such high stakes, time is of the essence for both sides. At this moment in time, Nasheed is showing greater political agility and foreign support than the lethargic Waheed government. However, as seen by yesterday's stunning display, the National Unity coalition presently hold the ultimate weapon, people power, in a fight that has only one decisive battle ground, the presidential elections.

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