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The Election Question - Do you vote party, candidate or constituency?

Rae Munavvar
03 April 2019, MVT 09:55
An illustration inspired by the quote, “If you're nothing without the suit, then you shouldn't have it", as said by Tony Stark. IMAGE: THE EDITION
Rae Munavvar
03 April 2019, MVT 09:55

The excitement of presidential elections and subsequent groundbreaking moments ushered 2019 in with appropriate bang and lustre. Maldives welcomed its first president from Lhaviyani Atoll, a true islander displaying a decidedly liberal spirit and moderate, calm temperament. Now, with the new year now fully underway, Maldivians face yet another, arguably more important, election.

The People’s Majlis, or the Parliament of Maldives, was first formed in 1932 during the reign of Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen III. As democracy itself took root, the Majlis evolved far beyond its first days at Hakura Ganduvaru. However, ever-unfortunately, the same cannot always be said of those who we elect to represent us.

Over the last month, The Edition has explored groundbreakers, controversial members, and female representation in the parliament. The reason why this writer believes these are all vital aspects of discussion lies in a strong belief that we must fully comprehend our journey, in order to better navigate the murky waters of political revolution, and propel ourselves firmly forward.

Words get thrown around frequently during an election as feverish as this - be it candidates presenting themselves as a certain ideal, the public disparaging another, or the set of values parties thrust upon us. The air is, certainly, heavy with dialogue and even thicker meaning.

As posters grace every blank surface, consuming it with pictures, logos and checkmarks - slogans tend to stand out, and the labels with which our Majlis representatives define themselves seems ever more important.

Among such prose arises, use of the word ‘qaabil’ seems to resonate with those delivering eloquent speeches, and the intently listening alike. And yet what does this abstract, entirely too subjective, word really mean?

‘Qaabil’, itself a beautiful throaty word, translates in Dhivehi as ‘being capable and qualified’. In the interest of expanding on possible interpretations, Urdu and Arabic, from which the term originates, to be ‘qaabil’ means to possess adequate power or to be ‘endorser’ or ‘acceptor’, respectively.

When the subject is a human being elected to represent a number of people for the purpose of lawmaking, does this word convey competency in terms of academia, expertise, by endorsement, a potential to wield power or the amount of power presently held? What does it mean, when the measure by which individuals grade these concepts tends to be so staggeringly different?

Whichever lens that you choose to dissect the upcoming elections and its respective candidates under, it seems prudent to consider first what these words mean to us, and what they may mean to the candidates that pose boldly by them.

Stands to reason that the call these potential parliamentarians publicize, the promises uttered, the slogans in pretty typography - they unequivocally believe to be true. However, it begs the question, does that single fact itself ensure that voter expectations and candidate assurances are on the same lines, let alone page?

When factions suggest that citizens must vote by colour alone, to ensure that it remains the brightest, it indicates their belief that the party ideology stands higher than the representative him or herself. By that logic, as we have done so in the past, should we elect comedians and actors to the table, or whichever arm firmly grasps the ticket? Yet that would negate our right to be surprised when sessions erupt in mockery and drama. Therefore, one endorsement does not a ‘qaabil’ candidate make!

If this does not convince you, then consider party approved representation of Maldives’ past and let history speak for itself. When constituencies are left MP-less mid-term following a three line whip, who compensates for their lack of presence? Or does the question get conveniently lost in the ensuing hoopla?

Despite the Parliament being mandated to enact, abolish and amend national legislative agenda, if one were to consider the televised candidate debates as well as the atoll-wide canvassing efforts, the focus of parties and individuals alike, seems to fall solely on the development of the constituency itself. There has been hardly any conversation, if at all, on the ability of candidates to contribute to law-making or scrutinizing the government.

Further, the President and leaders from within the ruling coalition have made numerous statements saying that it would be “difficult to provide assistance to constituencies” represented by members deemed “uncooperative”. Would this then mean that candidates are required to collude with the government to develop representative regions? IF the above holds true, basic concepts of governance seem lacking, moreover, the suggestion of blackmail pertaining to internal affairs across the nation is, to say the least, less than subtle.

That said, dark tales of what follows a hung parliament speak equally loud, from the archives of foreign nations. Yes, there is power in standing together. It would absolutely ease affairs of formulating and enacting policy and laws. The keywords here, though, aren’t policy and law. Rather, concentrate on absolute and power. When a particular party ‘reigns’ in government and parliament alike, are the proper checks and balances in place?

Regardless of the heated exchanges in various political hubs, and coffee tables no less, much of what is conveyed ultimately amounts to, be it poorly or professionally attempted, calculated guesswork. We can only presume and predict the various outcomes of our decisions, we can only hope that the emotive speeches delivered from the other side of podiums hold a grain of truth.

When desperate candidates attempt to colour their rhetoric and marketing collateral to reflect a particular party, when political addresses are aimed at accusing one another of matters that do not hold weight to present goals, when people are frustrated by the quality of the person the party they have sworn allegiance to has presented them with - have we ourselves ventured too far into the fray?

If like me, these questions hoard around in your mind, clouding your thoughts as the time to cast your ballot draws near - fear not! There are simpler, truer ways to get to the heart of the matter, and the matter is surely, as much of the heart as it is of the mind.

Does your candidate, pray tell me, understand the value of your concerns? Do your ideals hold the same weight to them and will they prioritize needs in a way that benefits you? Will their voices echo yours, as is meant to be? Will they contribute to the nation's lawmaking in a meaningful way?

This, constituents of the 87 electoral districts of Maldives, is absolutely, uncompromisingly vital - to decipher whether the lawmaker you elect, represents your interests above their own ambitions, a feat that can be accomplished best by a person that is not simply a reflection of the respective community but one that embodies the very best version of yourselves.

Ah! An exceedingly difficult task. Yet, most definitely, far from impossible.

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