Boost for ruling coalition in Maldives

Boost for ruling coalition in Maldives

The Parliamentary elections were, however, not free from controversies

The recent parliamentary elections in the Maldives have given comfortable majority to the ruling coalition led by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

 This party was formed in the run-up to the presidential election by the former dictator of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The presidential candidate of this party Abdulla Yameen had then emerged victorious in the controversial presidential elections that were held from September to November 2013. It was hoped that if the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the party of former president Nasheed gets majority in parliament, then it would be able to restraint president Yameen to some extent. However, this did not happen and the parliamentary elections too have given the ruling coalition thumping majority making many people wonder whether the clock of democracy has been turned back in the Maldives. 

The parliamentary elections were held as scheduled on March 22.  However, they were not free from controversy. As was the case during the presidential elections, the judiciary of Maldives once again played hyperactive role. The court sacked Election Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek on March 9 and slapped him with a suspended six-month jail sentence for contempt of court. His deputy, Ahmed Fayaz, was also fired but was not given jail sentence. Thowfeek was punished for speaking against the court's controversial role in last year's chaotic presidential election. Subsequently, the president appointed a new member, Ismail Habeeb, to the commission, enabling the body to function with the legally required quorum. 

The sacking of chairman and deputy chairman of the Maldivian Election Commission left the election holding body headless. It also led to the allegation that the Maldivian Supreme Court did it in an attempt to undermine the independence of the Election Commission. Though the Supreme Court had asked to fulfil the vacancies in the next six days, the needful was not done. 

It made the future of Maldivian parliamentary elections appear uncertain. But the court did not deliver any verdict before the elections hence the commission went ahead and held elections as scheduled.

Fortunately, in the elections held logistics did not turn out to be a problem and they were generally conducted in a smooth manner. Few incidents were reported but they were not major. The problem was found in other aspects. Some people were arrested distributing cash close to the polling booths. The subversion of the Election Commission and the use of money power created a general environment of disillusionment among the Maldivians. This disillusionment showed in the lower turnout at the polling booths. 

Civil liberties

The main opposition party, MDP fears that now as parliament also would be controlled by the PPM, it might use political power to curtail civil liberties. Earlier it had planned that if it gets majority in parliament, then it would work for the reform of the Maldivian institutions. 

Former president Nasheed thinks that holding the government accountable would be difficult without a majority but the MDP will be now doing it by other means such as questioning state institutions and bringing issues to the attention of the public.MDP now after its loss wants to go for internal restructuring. The position of both president and vice president of the party remain vacant after party president Ibrahim Didi and Vice president Alhan Fahmy were removed in a no-confidence vote in April 2012. Nasheed now wants new people to come forward who could run the party with greater aplomb.

The parliamentary poll was the biggest challenge before President Yameen after he assumed office last November. The positive outcome of these elections has now strengthened him and the coalition led by his party the PPM. This also means that former dictator Gayoom who actually controls the PPM has regained strength.

 This has made many people think that the multi-party democracy in Maldives enunciated after the 2008 elections could suffer. But this may not necessarily be true. On the other hand a loss of control over parliament by the ruling coalition would have resulted into a struggle between the president and the opposition leading to further disillusionment of people from democratic Institutions. 

The present scenario gives Maldivian president a free hand to implement his agenda. It remains to be seen however what path Abduall Yameen and his party takes. 

(The writer is Associate Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies & Analyses, New Delhi)