The rift in the main ruling party appears to widen as the two main leaders of MDP vie for the party ticket in the upcoming presidential election in 2023.
Speaker of the Parliament and former President Mohamed “Anni” Nasheed will be contesting in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) presidential primary, a source close to the former President has revealed.
Nasheed, who is also the President of MDP, will officially launch his campaign this Friday in Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo, the source said on Tuesday night. “He made the announcement this evening around 4 o’clock at a meeting with [his] close associates.”
A screenshot of a WhatsApp group named "Anni Primary" also circulated on social media. Ahmed "Saabe" Shaheed who leads campaigns within the party, had written in the group that its purpose was to garner votes for the former president for his upcoming presidential bid.
Shaheed told "Mihaaru" that he could not make any official comments regarding the matter yet.
MDP has not yet set an official date for the presidential primary; it is believed that the election will be held in early 2023.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih confirmed at a press conference held at the President’s Office in June, 2022 that he will be competing in MDP's presidential primary, seeking re-election for a second term as the President.
Meanwhile, Nasheed has expressed that he would not be supporting the incumbent President as the party’s candidate for the 2023 presidential election. Earlier this month, in a message sent to MDP Congress’ WhatsApp group, Nasheed explicitly stated that he would not be supporting President Solih in the primary. He said this in response to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdulla Shahid’s message, where he conveyed support to President Solih and refuted claims that he would be competing in the party’s presidential primary.
An official date for the 2023 presidential election has not been announced yet.
A clear rift began to grow in the party when Nasheed, after being elected as the Parliament’s Speaker, expressed interest in changing the Maldives' political system from a presidential system to a parliamentary system of government. While many of MDP’s founding members and those loyal to Nasheed supported the campaign, many others saw it as an unnecessary political ploy in the midst of an MDP presidency and backed Solih. This caused factions to form within the party: those who support "Anni" and those who support "Ibu" (as President Solih is colloquially known).
The Speaker of the Parliament even submitted a decree at the party Congress held in August, 2022 to hold a constitutional referendum to change the political system in the Maldives. But he withdrew the decree before it was opened for debate, claiming that he and the President would discuss the matter further and reach an agreement.
After Nasheed’s constitutional referendum campaign failed to impress the party’s Congress, the former president eluded the question when asked whether he was vying for the MDP presidency ticket. During a recent visit to Addu City, where Nasheed has substantial supporters, he was asked whether he would be competing in MDP’s presidential primary. Nasheed deflected the question with his trademark humour, retorting that if he became president again, he would get a "bondi" (a coconut candy made especially in Addu, and also an informal Dhivehi word for blunders).
While neither Speaker Nasheed nor President Solih have openly challenged each other, the infighting is visible in party activities: both leaders nominate their own candidates for party positions and parliamentary groups, and there was a trend of MDP lawmakers voting against bills submitted by the MDP government. Nasheed supporters in the parliament have even voted against the party whip, without any repercussions.
The split in the party became irrefutably clear during the MDP internal elections in May 2022, when the party’s Chairperson was elected. President Solih favoured his Cabinet member, Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail, while Nasheed’s choice was veteran lawmaker, Maafannu-North constituency MP Imthiyaz Fahmy. Minister Fayyaz won over 28,000 votes while MP Imthiyaz secured over 20,000, indicating that the party's numbers favoured the incumbent President.
President Solih appears to have the numbers; however, the scene may be drastically different when the two leaders compete for MDP's ticket in the upcoming presidential election in 2023.
Nasheed's contributions to the party, as well as to Maldives' democratic process, are undeniable. He is charismatic and has an ability to connect with people – an endearing trait that is especially evident in his door-to-door campaigns. While he remains extremely popular amongst MDP's ‘old guard,’ he has also lost support as a result of his adamant campaign to change the governance system in his favour.
President Solih has amassed a strong following in the last four years of his presidency. The new generation of MDP supporters recognised the President’s leadership in maintaining a coalition government, and his support grew stronger after successfully managing a global pandemic in 2020.
After a long period of infighting, factions, splits and rifts, the upcoming MDP primary will be a historic one. President Solih will be the party's first sitting president to compete in a presidential primary election. Meanwhile, Nasheed has run in every MDP primary since 2007, and in 2008, he won the first-ever democratic election held in the Maldives.