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#Maldives: Nasheed's woes within MDP increasing as Parliament and Peace Talks stalled?

Male', Maldives.
The woes of Mohamed Nasheed, Supreme Leader of Maldives Democratic Party, appear to be increasing as the party's senior leadership distance themselves from the violent turn of Nasheed's street rallies. Some members of Nasheed's cabinet and top administrators have left the party. Party President Dr. Ibrahim Didi and senior MPs have appealed to party members not to leave the party but to be patient while they attempt to reform the MDP. Others have highlighted the need for reform within the party, alleging that decisions related to party activities are not taken through due democratic processes. Some MDP MPs have again urged Nasheed to halt street riots and pursue peaceful resolution through Parliament and through the all party Peace Talks.

However, two days after Nasheed used his MPs and mobs to successfully suspend Parliament, peace talks between political parties have also been stalled. The three major coalition parties in President Waheed's National Unity Government yesterday said that they would not return to the negotiating table with Nasheed until the people's house of representatives was allowed to function.

Even with both the Parliament and Peace Talks suspended, and his own party leadership urging peace talks, Nasheed last night showed that his political direction remained unchanged. Speaking at a rally he reiterated his policy, forcing President Waheed to resign through street riots and violence, leading to snap elections in 60 days under an interim government headed by Speaker of Parliament, Abdulla Shahid.

Political analysts however, posit that the objective of the riots organized by Nasheed is not a snap election. "Even Nasheed can see that snap elections are not possible", one senior statesman observed. "His real objective in making these allegations and running street riots is to rouse people's emotions in order to retain core support for himself until an election, a possibility for the year's end", he said.

Media have reported that all political parties had essentially agreed on the need for an election earlier than mandated in the current constitution. Their stand is that the election date, plus other required amendments in the constitution to facilitate and guarantee a free and fair election, be negotiated within the Parliament. A process, they argue, has wider participation since Parliament is representative of the people.

Sources close to Nasheed confirm that there is a significant loss of support for Nasheed, his hasty resignation being viewed by some as a fatal mistake in political judgement. "Many feel that Nasheed did not need to resign that day, he made a huge blunder and by doing so he lost MDP the government", one source said. "Some feel that, if true to democratic values, Nasheed should resign from his leadership post in MDP, as it was his mistakes that cost the party its government. The true fatality here is MDP, not Nasheed.".

This view is substantiated by comments to local media by some MPs and party leaders. Party President Ibrahim Didi told local media that Nasheed's downfall was due to unconstitutional actions such as the military arrest of a senior judge. Didi said that, in recent months Nsheed had made many mistakes, based on wrong advice by those close to him, people who felt that their interests were being endangered by the opposition.

Dr. Didi's assessment was later supported by MP for Nolhivaram Mohamed Nasheed, Speaking to media, MP Nasheed appealed to party members not to leave the party because of the events of the past month, but to be patient while the party's top leadership addressed the critical issues which led to the loss of public support for the MDP government.

MDP Parliamentary Leader, MP for Hinnavaru Ibrahim Mohamed Salih, agreed with this, telling media that the party must undergo a reform process to address the problems within. Ibrahim Salih is one of Nasheed's closest advisors, being a school friend and also married to Nasheed's cousin Fazna Ahmed (daughter of Bodu Sikka, the 1988 coup leader who brought the LTTE to Maldives).

Political observers point out that the top leadership of Nasheed's party have stepped back, with the front line near Nasheed now occupied by his family members and recent entrants to the party. Key members of Nasheed's cabinet are also missing from the front lines. Senior administrators have left the MDP, saying that the party is undemocratic. Party President Dr. Didi has publicly said that the nightly rallies held by Nasheed in Male' are not MDP rallies since the party's National Congress had not approved these rallies.

Much debated in public is the fact that, although Nasheed alleges that he had 18 MNDf officers pointing guns at him demanding that he resign, this story has not been corroborated by his closest ministers and MPs who were with Nasheed in MNDF Headquarters that day. These include Nasheed's Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem (Nasheed's cousin), and MP for Dhaandhoo Mohamed Riyaz. None have given any statement in support of Nasheed's allegation.

Additionally, Nasheed held a cabinet meeting on February 7th, prior to his resignation to inform his cabinet of his reasons for resignation. He thus had ample opportunity to tell his closest people that he was resigning due to a military coup. However, none of the Cabinet members have given public testimony that Nasheed informed them that he was resigning due to a military coup. In fact, most have faded into the background, not even seen at Nasheed's rallies.

The events of March 1st are even more revealing about Nasheed's loss of support within MDP. Political analysts point out that only 16 of the 34 MDP MPs took part in the March 1st obstruction inside Parliament. "MDP holds 34 seats in Parliament. Where were the other 18 MDP MPs? Surely they were not all conveniently out of the country?", one analyst asked.

Media reports substantiate this, reporting that discussion on the proposed actions on March 1st within MDP's national congress were vocally opposed by several MPs and Congress members. However, a motion tabled by former Home Minister Hassan Afeef giving a small committee of Nasheed's closest allies the full authority to organize and hold any street and public activities they deem fit was railroaded through. The three member committee given the mandate to organize all "necessary" actions consist of former Defence Ministers Tholhath Afeef and Ameen Faisal, and Nasheed's personal Secrtary Mohamed Ziyad (Ziyattey).

With this team deciding on street actions, and Nasheed's cousin by marriage Ibrahim Salih controlling Parliamentary actions, Nasheed now has sole and final say on the direction of his party activities.

This is evident in the interesting turn of events at Parliament during the 10 hours of MDP obstruction. At one stage, President Waheed had reportedly successfully negotiated an agreement with Ibrahim Solih and other MDPs to allow the Parliament session to begin, on the agreement that the discussion of a date for early elections would be through Parliament and not at the peace talks. MDP controls the biggest voting bloc in Parliement, and hence the outcome was likely to be favorable to MDP. However, much to Salih's dismay, a quick phone call to Nasheed for confirmation resulted in Nasheed's categorical rejection of any discussion of an election date in Parliament. Salih was left with the difficult task of informing President Waheed that MDP had reneged on their agreement within minutes.

While Nasheed shows a publicly defiant face both to his party leaders and to his political opponents, opposition parties yesterday threw a spanner into the hitherto smooth operation of Nasheed's masterplan to return to power. Coalition MPs announced that they were considering a motion of no-confidence against Speaker Abdulla Shahid. If such a motion were to be tabled, it brings into question Speaker Shahid's legitimacy to head an interim government if Nasheed's street riots were able to force President Waheed to resign.

President Waheed's government in the meantime continue with the process of government, Ministers yesterday announcing informally that they had managed to get the financial crisis left by Nasheed under control. Sources say that, when Nasheed resigned on February 7th, his government was just four days away from sovereign default.

This relieves the financial pressure on the Unity Government for an early election, while increasing the pressure of Nasheed to force an early election. Regardless of how deep the MDP coffers may be, continued public protests are proving to be highly costly. The March 1st riots reportedly cost MDP over two million Rufiya. Each march staged in the party name is estimated to cost about 200,000 Rufiya paid to the Male' clubs to bring out participants. A further 150,000 Rufiya is reportedly spent nightly for the gatherings in Male'. With such high expenses, a drawn out campaign may be difficult for even Nasheed, who reportedly has the backing of Indian giant GMR and many other overseas financiers.

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