Colombo, December 3 (Counterpoint): The Maldivian presidential election is due to take place in November 2023. Although there are still two years left, the country is already in electoral mode.
As the polls approach, a number of issues grab the attention of citizens. The main ones among these are: a suggestion to switch to the parliamentary system of the current presidential system; the suitability of the political style of the various potential candidates; relations with the rival powers of India and China; and the country’s Islamic foundations and Islamic radicalism.
Presidential vs parliamentary
The Speaker of the Maldivian Parliament and former Speaker Mohamed Nasheed has long advocated the Westminster style of government. Last year it revived demand.
In 2007, a referendum was held on this issue and the Maldivians voted overwhelmingly in favor of the presidential system. Then as now, Nasheed defended the parliamentary system. The 2008 constitution inaugurated a presidential system, with the president being directly elected by a national electorate and parliamentarians being elected from territorial constituencies.
However, supporters of the parliamentary system, who mostly belong to Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), say the mood has changed after experiencing the presidential system since 2008. There is a yearning for change, they say. Recently, Nasheed told the “Ask the Speaker” TV show that a “constitutional referendum” would take place before the October 2023 presidential election.
“What I really think is that after 2023 the system of governance will not continue as a presidential system. I think the Maldives will function more effectively in a parliamentary system. Having a parliament accountable to the citizens will be the key. more beneficial for citizens and will boost the rate of development, ”he said.
One of Nasheed’s arguments for the Westminster system is that it is suitable for “coalition politics”. Coalitions, he emphasizes, are essential in Maldivian politics with its multiplicity of parties and factions. And coalitions work best in a parliamentary system. In addition, governance would not depend so much on one person, the directly elected president. In a presidential system, whether the country is run democratically, effectively and decisively or not, depends too much on one person, the president. But in the parliamentary system, power will be distributed among the Prime Minister, the cabinet, his parliamentary party and Parliament as a whole. Individual MPs will have more power to work for their constituencies if they have a share of the power. Presidential elections are also costly as candidates have to cover the whole country.
In addition, the formation of government and the capture of power will be easier in a parliamentary system. Even people who are unattractive to the masses can hope to be prime minister if they have MPs and are able to form and lead a coalition. It is said that former President Abdulla Yameen, who is not a mass leader and also tainted with being jailed for alleged money laundering, can still hope to be prime minister using his limited stock of goodwill and a limited number of deputies if it forms a large enough coalition.
After returning from overseas after receiving medical treatment for injuries sustained in the terrorist attack on him on May 6, Nasheed met with President Ibrahim Solih to discuss the issue of constitutional change. But Solih dodged. He has shown interest in a second term as president after experiencing the greatness of the president’s office. However, activists in the CDM for change still hope that it will accept a referendum if the party cancels it.
Division possible in MDP
Either way, the general apprehension is that the CDM could be divided, either on the issue of shifting to the parliamentary system or on politics and leadership style. Nasheed wants the Solih government to be more concrete and decisive whether it is on democratization, Islamic radicalism, or politics vis-à-vis China. Solih, on the other hand, prefers a soft stance and is guided by his coalition partners instead of leading the pack.
Nasheed would like the Maldives to make a frank break with China, which he and his supporters say has loaded the Maldives with megaprojects with increased prices (with a provision to bribe local politicians). Its supporters believe that ties with India must be strengthened because the projects funded by it are transparent. They also prefer Western-style democracy to the Chinese dictatorial model.
When Indian diplomats were violently attacked in a section of the Maldivian media as part of the “India Out” movement, India published an verbal note after which the Maldivian foreign ministry advised the media to respect foreign diplomats. But neither President Solih nor Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid lent their voice to the condemnation.
While Nasheed wanted the Solih government to expose the Chinese plans negotiated by President Yameen, Solih said The hindu in an interview in January: “China is a close and valued partner of the Maldives. We welcome their participation in the G20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative and appreciate having been able to engage positively with them to renegotiate the terms of ongoing development assistance and economic projects, mutually beneficial to both countries, and consistent with our relationship. “
True to his style, Solih also praised India’s assistance, saying, “We appreciate the proactive role India has played in the economic relief efforts and financial assistance to the Maldives, as well as for its assistance. to continuous development. The Maldives make no apologies for our positive engagement with our bigger neighbor and one of our closest international partners, India. We note that we are pleased to advance several of the development cooperation projects signed between the Indian government and the previous administration of the Maldives. We welcome constructive criticism of our foreign policy, as well as other aspects of our governance. Our international relations are vital, especially in times of global crisis. Undermining relations which are in the best interests of the Maldives for the sake of demagoguery and cheap political points is irresponsible. “
Nasheed would like the Solih government to severely crack down on Islamic radicalism through appropriate legislation and also force the police, investigative agencies and the judiciary to be more vigilant and diligent in tracking down and punishing radicals. But Solih lacked in these areas. The investigation into the May 6 assassination attempt revealed the regime’s ineffectiveness. He had failed to keep Nasheed safe, and the plot behind the attack has not been unraveled. “The system is as steeped in corruption as it was before,” said one CDM activist.
With the Supreme Court’s release of former President Abdulla Yameen from the million dollar corruption and money laundering case, Yameen is back in the political arena. He was greeted with enthusiasm by his colleagues in the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). His half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and his National People’s Congress (PNC) are currently forming a coalition with him, but could part ways if Yameen wants a change in the parliamentary system or forms a coalition with Nasheed. As previously stated, in his current state, Yameen has every interest in switching to the parliamentary system.
China and India
China and India are major dividers in Maldivian politics. While Nasheed is totally opposed to China and its plans, Solih is neutral but with a formal inclination towards India. Recently, the Solih government entered into an agreement with a Chinese company Sino Soar Technologies to provide solar power to 12 islands. Sino Soar had previously been pulled from an AfDB sanctioned project to install solar power plants in three islands off northern Sri Lanka at the request of India, which said the project posed a security risk from India.
However, to be fair to Solih, he also handed over infrastructure projects to India. The Maldives have signed an agreement with Mumbai-based AFCONS for the construction of the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP). This involves the construction of a 6.74 km long bridge and causeway that will link the capital Malé to the neighboring islands of Villingli, Gulhifalhu and Thilafushi. The project is funded by an Indian grant of US $ 100 million, with a line of credit of US $ 400 million. On the other hand, the Chinese-built Sinamalé bridge connecting Malé to the islands of Hulhulé and Hulhumalé is 1.39 km long.
Yameen, of course, is blatantly anti-India and blatantly pro-China. For its part, China had supported him to the hilt much to the chagrin of Nasheed, India and the United States. The “India Out” movement is supported by the PPM of Yameen. The PPM, which enjoys some support in the media, is suspicious of India’s military interests in the Maldives. He gave voice to the allegation that India is seeking military bases. The stationing of Indian military personnel to fly and maintain planes for surveillance and rescue operations had been a problem during Yameen’s presidency.
China has been in retreat since Yameen’s defeat in 2018. It has tried to work with the Solih regime. Significantly, he did not announce the completion of several high-rise residential buildings in Huluhumale, apparently to avoid embarrassing the Solih government.