People of Maldives Decide the Winner, Not External Players
There is a mistaken belief that India has been behind election manipulation to the advantage of its favourites not only in Maldives in 2018 but also in other countries as Sri Lanka’s 2015 Presidential polls. This myth is essentially perpetrated by losers who cannot face the reality of their own unpopularity as well as the mood of the people.
In Sri Lanka Mahinda Rajapaksa openly blamed and continues to censure external agencies implying Indian intelligence RAW to be behind his downfall in 2015. His defeat can be ascribed to multiple factors mostly internal.
However some Indian opinion makers and analysts seeking to project India’s influence in the region misconstrue these changes as engineered by the establishment on orders of the top leadership.
The issue is complex and while external factors do make a difference their actual impact may be marginal given the relative maturing of the electorate in countries in South Asia, independent election commissions and militaries exercising restraint.
In the case of the loss by President Abdulla Yameen, India really did not have to play much of a role given the fact that he has never been popular beyond a select constituency which was further reduced after he broke off with his elder brother Gayooum Mamoun with the breakup of the Progressive Party of Maldives.
In 2013 elections Yameen succeeded after he made a deal with third placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim in the first round, thus leading to shift of block of votes to succeed against Mohammad Nasheed.
Yameen’s rounding up of the opposition leaders and jailing them including his own Vice President, Defence Minister and Gayoom in his 80’s, general impression of authoritarianism, open truck with conservatives had created a negative image in the Atoll nation.
Yameen attempted to structure the Presidential elections in his favour, ruling out a strong opponent, placing a pliable chief of the elections commission and being assured of support of the courts. He however miscalculated mood of the people while a united opposition further reduced the scope of his return to power.
The opposition played its cards well, firstly, Mohammad Nasheed opted out of the race, as he would have been disqualified given his sentencing irrespective of these being politically motivated. Ibu Solih as a common opposition candidate gelled well due to his understated profile and soft approach.
More over Solih and his running mate Faisal Naseem ran a very hard campaign visiting almost all the atolls and won public support. The large crowd that attended their meetings as opposed to the few at the President or his running mate’s rallies indicated which way the electorate was going.
In fact the mainstream media seemed to have misread the people’s mood when it declared an upset win for Solih, he was well expected to win based on ground inputs.
Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) and Police have had influence in the past including the 2012 civil coup deposing Nasheed. This time the strong people’s verdict gave no such option to the President to order these to subvert the elections.
India may have guided opposition unity and other political facilitations but to suggest it had influenced the election victory would be unfair on the value judgement of the people of Maldives and the hard work by Mr Solih.
Yet the story will not end till Mr Solih is sworn in and adopts a conciliatory approach to bring in national unity rather than a confrontationist one seeking retribution for the misdeeds of President Yameen which no doubt are many but the temptation must be avoided.