As the international community focuses its attention on the presidential elections, front runners Nasheed and Abdullah Yameen have warned of poll time violence, reports Shubha Singh
Multicoloured banners, posters, parades, sports meets and television appearances of the leading candidates have marked the campaigns for the presidential election in the Maldives. The run-up to the election on September 7 has been largely peaceful despite a variety of allegations that have ranged from the possibility of violence to the use of black magic to disrupt the polls, and disappearing ink to trick the voters.
Cyberspace is full of sharp commentary and appeals as Maldives has a vibrant social and online media that has followed and commented upon political developments. But the high point of the election campaigns was the televised debate between the four presidential candidates.
The presidential election would bring an end to the political instability and bitterness that has plagued Maldives for the last 19 months after former president Mohamed Nasheed stepped down under controversial circumstances in 2012. Nasheed later called it a coup, saying that he was forced to resign under armed threat.
The four candidates for the election are former president Nasheed, President Waheed -- contesting as an independent, business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim and Abdullah Yameen representing the Progressive Party of Maldives of long time autocratic ruler of Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was defeated by Nasheed in Maldives first democratic elections in 2008.
TV Maldives aired a live question and answer session with the four candidates; the questions were based on the results of a survey carried out by MaldivesNationalUniversity to identify issues that concerned ordinary Maldivians. The four candidates responded to questions on economy, education, health, development and social welfare.
While Gasim Ibrahim promised ipods and laptops to all students in Grade 8, President Waheed stressed on his achievements in office and his efforts to bring in new industries. He claimed to have reduced the deficit from 15 per cent to 5 per cent. Abdullah Yameen assured a regular salary to fishermen while Nasheed spoke of building housing, creating jobs and development projects for the remote atolls.
A few months ago, President Waheed had seemed to be on a strong wicket, but his party could not gather the 10,000 supporters required to register a political party. He is now contesting as an independent and has also lost the support of the Adhaalath Party and the Dhivehi Quamee Party that were part of his ruling coalition, but have since moved to an alliance with Gasim Ibrahim.
A resort owner with deep pockets, Gasim Ibrahim has run a flashy campaign; he has the support of the two conservative parties who have sought to brand Nasheed as anti-Islam for not banning alcohol in the country. Abdullah Yameen is former president Gayoom’s half brother; Gayoom still retains support among different sections of Maldivian population. Nasheed supporters claim that Gayoom was behind the plan to remove him from office.
Nasheed and Yameen are the front-runners in the election. Nasheed has expressed confidence that he will get more than 50 per cent of the votes in the election. Under the Maldives constitution, the winning candidate must get 50 per cent of the votes or a second round of polling is held between the two candidates who get the highest votes.
Nasheed’s party has been in campaign mode for the past 19 months to keep the motivation high among its young supporters. It is important for Nasheed to get elected in the first round as the other parties are likely to pool together their support against him in the event of a run-off poll.
Nasheed and Yameen have warned of poll time violence and there is strong international attention focused on the elections. There has been tremendous pressure from the international community, including the UN, India, European Union, and Britain to ensure inclusive and fair elections. A 17-member Commonwealth observer team led by former Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Lawrence Gonzi, is to oversee the election. A team of three former Chief Election Commissioners and a former Indian High Commissioner have been touring Maldives.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called for credible, peaceful elections in Maldives. He has urged all candidates to respect the election results regardless of who wins and that all stakeholders should overcome past differences.
Image: Maldivian riot police officers stand guard as they block the supporters of ousted Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed during a clash in Male
Photographs: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters