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15 November 2013, Gateway House

Testing times for the Maldives

The ongoing political crisis in the Maldives has deteriorated after a run-off election on November 10 was delayed. Now, the next election is scheduled to be held on November 16. However, despite four scheduled elections in the last two months, chances are slim that stability will return soon to the Maldives

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The political crisis in the Maldives worsened after a run-off election scheduled for November 10 was delayed, and a new president could not be sworn in by November 11, throwing the country into a constitutional void.

The Maldives has been unstable since February 2012, when the first elected government of the country was overthrown amid violence in a police mutiny. Street protests and demonstrations have racked the streets of Malé in the months since.

Elections were eventually held on 7 September 2013 with an 88% voter turnout, and the polls were declared free and fair by local and international observers on the ground, including delegations from India, UK, U.S., the European Union, Pakistan, Thailand, and Japan.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) won by a large margin with 45.45% of the vote. However, he fell short of the 50% required to avoid a run-off election with second place candidate Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)

Any hopes that the elections would mark a return to stability were quickly dashed when the third place candidate, business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, appealed to the Supreme Court to annul the elections, alleging widespread fraud. In a controversial 4-3 decision that has been denounced by the international community, the court upheld the plea and annulled the elections. The verdict was based on a confidential “police report” that was not shared with the defendants, and has not been made public.

The Supreme Court also issued a 16-point “guideline,” including a provision requiring fingerprints on the voter registration forms, and mandating that the signatures of the candidates should be on the voters’ registry before elections could commence. This effectively meant that the candidates now hold a veto over the election process.

The Elections Commission attempted to hold elections on September 28 and October 19, but both attempts were thwarted by the police, who physically intervened to prevent the ballot boxes from being transported.

Given a constitutional deadline of November 11, and facing immense international pressure, the candidates all agreed to hold an election on November 9, followed by a run-off election on November 10, if required.

The November 9 election was declared free and fair, and had an 87% voter turnout. Nasheed once again led with a 46.93% of the vote. Abdulla Yameen in the second place increased his tally to 29.73%.

However, mere minutes after the interim results were announced, Yameen declared in a press conference that he would not sign the voters registry, and that the run-off elections would not take place the next day. He also said he required additional time to campaign.

Facing a constitutional void, the international community urged President Mohammed Waheed to step down at the end of his legal term and hand over interim power to the Speaker of the Parliament Abdulla Shahid, as decided by a parliamentary resolution.

Waheed had announced earlier that he would resign on November 11. However, an hour before his legal term was due to end, he announced that he would continue to remain in office till November 16, when the next election is scheduled to be held.

The move drew furious responses from the MDP and the international community. The Commonwealth Special Envoy, Don McKinnon, said the delay in holding the elections is “unreasonable and unacceptable.” The Maldives is now back on the formal agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, pending the November 16 election.

The U.S. government has said this “unprecedented decision” by Waheed to remain in power beyond his legal mandate has endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice. Canada expressed doubts about the legitimacy of the interim incumbent government.

The NGO Asian Centre for Human Rights has called for a travel ban on the incumbent president, his police commissioner, and the four controversial Supreme Court justices responsible for the judicial coup d’etat.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid has circulated a letter declaring that the current term of the president is at an end and cannot be extended without an amendment to the Constitution. The Speaker could not be formally sworn in, however, as the Chief Justice refused to cooperate as required by the law. Without support from the police and the military, the Speaker cannot enforce his authority.

However, several island councils as well as the city councils of major population centres of Addu and Malé have declared they do not recognise the legitimacy of the Waheed regime, and that they will report to the Speaker. The Anti-Corruption Commission, an independent authority, has also declared that it will no longer formally deal with the current government.

The international community appears to be in agreement and galvanised against the current regime, with rumours of possible sanctions. However, it appears to be waiting and watching for any further disruptions on November 16 before making any move.

Both Nasheed and Yameen are currently trying to win endorsements from Qasim Ibrahim, who came third with roughly 23% of the votes. He could be a decisive factor. For the moment, Gasim has not decided to align with either party, but has been in talks with both.

However, despite four scheduled elections in the last two months, chances appear slim that stability will return soon to the Maldives. Even if Nasheed emerges victorious and is allowed to be sworn in, he still has to contend with an economy that is currently in free fall after months of instability, as well as come up with a strategy to assert his authority over a heavily politicised law enforcement body that violently overthrew his government just under two years ago.

Right now, all eyes are on the November 16 elections.

Yameen Rasheed is a Malé-based commentator on the politics and society of the Maldives.

This article was exclusively written for Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations. You can read more exclusive content here.

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