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#Maldives: President Dr. Waheed - a formidable challenge to any opponent in Presidential Elections 2013

#Maldives: Unfolding political scenarios country wide bear witness that incumbent President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan will be a formidable challenge to any opponent in the upcoming Presidential Elections 2013. President Waheed yesterday publicly announced that he would be contesting the 2013 elections, leading a coalition of interested parties. The announcement was greeted with support and respect in Maldivian social media and online media, even in the light of the fact that it came on the one year anniversary of the black day that his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed tried to topple him through brute force and arson on February 8th, 2012.

Dr. Waheed's popularity is on an exponential rise within all voting segments, bolstered by a series of bold nationalistic decisions in 2012 in the face of immense international and internal pressures. His historic decision, in the face of extreme Indian Government pressure, to terminate a contract made by Nasheed illegally with Indian multinational giant GMR, and the refusal to bow to unjust pressure from the Commonwealth and individual nations such as Canada and the UK, last year catapulted Dr. Waheed into the Maldivian political superstar league of former Presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

These decisions have garnered such widespread populist support for the quiet yet decisive and straightforward President, that political opponents have started virulent attacks on him. Those with Presidential aspirations such as presidential primaries candidate in the Gayoom's Progressive Party of Maldives, his younger brother Yaameen Abdul Gayyoom, have begun all out attacks on President Waheed's Government and policies. Two days ago, at a public rally on the eve of Maldives Liberation Day February 7th, Yameen accused President Waheed's government and all its agencies as having failed in service to the public. Coupled with the accusations, came Yameen's usual claim of credit for the major successful decisions of the Waheed government in the past year. Similarly, at the closure of PPM's recent Firt National Congress, Yaameen publicly claimed credit for the "GMR decision", claiming that the decision was forced upon Dr. Waheed by Yameen himself and PPM.

Presidential aspirant Yaameen's claims has not received any support from any other party. On the contrary, coalition ally and third largest party in the country Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party (DRP) has come out forcefully and condemned Yameen's attempts to shackle and destablize his opponent's government. Deputy Leader of DRP's Parliamentary Group Dr. Abdulla Mausoom yesterday accused PPM of working together with Nasheed's MDP to cut off over two billion from the annual public budget, and then turning around and accusing government agencies of non-performance. Mausoom pointed out that these budgetary constraints had been purposefully put in place by PPM to cripple a well performing government.

Dr. Mausoom further went on to accuse Yameen himself of further machinations to shackle Dr. Waheed and government functioning. The Waheed government is presently embroiled in a tussle with the Government Accountability Committee of the Parliament, a committee whose majority is held by Nasheed's MDP. Dr. Mausoom very pertinently pointed out that MDP did not have a majority in the committee before, but only did so because Yameen's previous party People's Alliance (PA) vacated its seat in the committee. Dr. Mausoom alluded to this as a purposeful act designed to mar the Government performance leading to the 2013 elections.

Leader of the Qaumee Party and Political Advisor to the President Dr. Hassan Saeed has come out strongly in support of President Waheed's prospects for re-election. Some days back, Dr. Saeed stated to media that, in his view, President Dr. Waheed is the biggest challenge to any contender in the Presidential Election 2013. The highly popular Adhaalath Party and and Civic Coalition (Madhanee Itthihaad) working for national issues have also endorsed President Dr. Waheed, showing that there will be a solid voting bloc behind Dr. Waheed should he contest Presidency 2013.

As Dr. Hassan Saeed notes, President Dr. Waheed has demonstrated that he is man who can stand steadfast in heavy storms and guide the nation firmly to calmer waters even though working with a crew all of whom may not be working towards the same goal. President Dr. Waheed heads a coalition National Unity Government in which all cabinet posts and over 80% of political are filled with individuals hailing from parties other than his own. A large percentage of this is PPM too. In spite of this, and in spite of several incidents of political differences between President Waheed's nationalist policies and opinions of coalition partners and presidential aspirants such as Yaameen and Jumhooree party leader Gasim Ibrahim, Dr. Waheed guided his National Unity Government through its toughest 10 months to end 2012 on a positive in all aspects, socially, economically and politically.

When the reins of the Maldivian Presidency passed to President Waheed on February 7th 2012, he became the fifth President of the country. Waheed, then Vice President, ascended to the Presidency when Mohamed Nasheed resigned after weeks of civic protests against him. Nasheed even today is on the streets accusing President Waheed him of leading an alleged coup. However, this claim today does not receive the support that it did internationally and nationally after the report of the CONI decisively showed that there was no coup.

When President Waheed ascended to power some political opponents accused him of being a cowardly man with a history or running away when the going got tough. However, this has shown untrue and unfounded. In reality, very few recall that the country's long road to political reform did indeed begin its modern phase with Mohamed Waheed. Political opponents seek to hide the fact that Dr. Waheed is the man who first introduced a Bill of Rights to the Constitutional Assembly, the first to introduce a Bill on Freedom of Speech to the Majlis.

Nicknamed the Professor by his classmates for his studious nature, President Waheed may not have a flamboyant history of a prisoner of conscience. Nor does he have a history of lawlessness and street fighting. However, it cannot be denied that Mohamed Waheed was one man, who had the courage and integrity to stand up for human rights and democracy during the Gayoom regime, long ago while Nasheed was a mere school boy in the UK. Dr. Waheed's Bill of Rights was a landmark bill which sought to guarantee fundamental human rights to Maldivians by entrenching these in the new Constitution of the country. Dr. Waheed ran protest campaigns against the unlawful detention of political prisoners, a notable one of which was Nasheed who now smears Dr. Waheed's reputation calling him a traitor to the country.

President Dr. Waheed comes from an ordinary Male' family which had none of the necessities for social ascendancy at the time, that is, links to nobility or money. However, President Ibrahim Nasir rewarded Handhuvaru Hassan Maniku for his long years of public service by awarding his son Waheed with a scholarship to the University of Beirut. Completing a Bachelor's in English Language and a teaching diploma in war torn Beirut was no easy feat. This exposure to an American liberal education amidst war and strife built up an idealism and activism in Waheed, which he passed on to his students upon his return to the Maldives in late 1970s. 

Dr. Waheed's real foray into politics came after he had returned to Maldives a third time (1988), this time after completing a doctorate in international development education at Stanford. Gayoom sought to co-opt Dr. Waheed with key posts in his government, including membership in a number of advisory councils. His popularity growing, Dr. Waheed was a focal point for young educated Maldivians disgruntled with the increasing evidence of corruption in the Gayoom government. His family homes became hotbeds of student dissidence. This became Dr. Waheed's formal entry into politics. A popular man amongst the youth already, much to Gayoom's dismay, Dr. Waheed became an iconic figure who was fighting against corruption and oppression. His opponent, Ilyas Ibrahim, was a powerful man who headed the military forces and controlled government trading. 

The fight between Dr. Waheed and Ilyas was seen by Maldivian youth as one of good versus evil. Thousands flocked to Waheed's banner, sporting a thumbs up sign which became synonymous with rights and democracy. Dr. Waheed ran a disciplined and educated campaign which sought to convince Male' voters to vote for their conscience. Backed by big business such as the late Ali Abdulla (Nasheed's father in law), Gasim Ibrahim (current leader of Jumhooree Party) and Ali Hussain (Novelty), the campaign flooded Male' with letters and pamphlets explaining Waheed's political philosophy and campaign manifesto. This was the first real political campaign in Maldivian history. 

Voters swept Waheed into first position ahead of Ilyas by a significant margin, about 300 votes. However, Waheed and his supporters could not believe that the margin was not larger. They alleged that the ballot had been tampered with by Gayoom's administration, in order not to defeat Ilyas from the second seat. While Dr. Waheed took his seat in Parliament, his disgruntled family and closest supporters ran anti-government campaigns amongst the Male' voters. These build up to forays in bombings, with scenes reminiscent of today's riots led by Nasheed took place. 

President Dr. Waheed's lone crusade for civic and political rights in the Majlis and in civic society cannot be denied. Dr. Waheed introduced to Majlis a Member's Bill for Freedom of Speech. A core provision of this was the citizen's right to criticize government without fear of reprisal. He followed words with action by working for the release of political detainees, the more famous of whom now is Nasheed. Dr. Waheed's Black Ribbon campaign against political detention by the Government was another milestone in the country's road to democracy.

The story of Dr. Waheed's long walk to democracy has been overshadowed by more flamboyant political figures. Yet, it is fact and it is testament to the perseverance and integrity of a patriotic Maldivian. It is significant today that it was Nasheed's attempts to limit freedom of speech by harassing and detaining political opponents who criticized his regime that stirred Dr. Waheed to finally speak out against the Nasheed Government, a sign of Dr. Waheed remaining true to his fight for democracy.

History speaks for itself, as do the actions of the man who has risen from adversity to lead the Maldives in these turbulent times. One year on from the liberation of Maldives from the dictatorship of Mohamed Nasheed, it is evident that incumbent President Waheed is in the strongest of positions to win the upcoming elections, albeit in a second round with coalition support. Dr. Waheed has managed to put the economy back on track despite serious obstacles internally and from neighbouring countries such as India, recaptured national assets such the local international airport from Indian Multinational GMR's death grip. He has restored rule of law and upheld rights of the people. He has refused to interfere in the other independent organs of the state, including the Judiciary and the Parliament. At the same time, he has refused to compromise national sovereignty and independence for short term gains, all of which have generated a strong upwelling of populist support for Dr. Waheed's continued leadership. Diplomacy and integrity appear to win as India is now back on cooperating terms with Dr. Waheed, working to rebuild damaged bridges. Strong links are being forged with Muslim countries, and neighbouring Sri Lanka remains a close friend.

Current unfolding political events and rhetoric by his political opponents bear testament to President Waheed's ascendancy. MDP and DRP are jockeying hand in hand to hasten the elections to within 60 days from opening of Parliament on March 1st, 2013, in order to maintain their eligibility and prevent President Waheed from gaining further ground. PPM has launched all out attacks on President Waheed's presidency and leadership, with its candidates for presidential primaries levelling heated public attacks on his integrity.

In spite of these attacks, once again, perhaps unbeknownst to the wider public, today President Waheed is fighting yet another crucial battle for the maldivian citizen, to defend the right to freedom of association.  All major parties represented in Parliament (where President Waheed's party GIP and Adhaalath are not represented) have teamed up to pass an atrocious Act on Political Parties which severely limits the constitutional right of freedom of political association. The act limits the registration of political parties to those parties which can garner 10,000 members raising the bar more than 3 fold from the current requirement of 3,000 members, thereby eliminating from the contest smaller parties like GIP, Adhaalath and several others. Fortunately for the general public, President Dr. Waheed has stood firm against even this attack on fundamental rights coming from within the Parliament itself. He has sent back the Bill without ratification, citing that it violates the constitutional freedom of right of political association by limiting it to arbitray bounds.  

As political opponents use all their political might to cripple the Waheed Government and to deter his candidacy, the fact remains that, as President Waheed recently pointed out to AFP, Maldives has faired better under him along its path to democracy than have many other countries. History is testament to this. It now remains up to the individual voter in this presidential democracy to vote for whomever he or she deems best for the country, in September 2013.

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