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When will an opposition candidate emerge?

11 January 2018, MVT 10:52
President Yameen (L) shakes hands with Former President Nasheed.
11 January 2018, MVT 10:52

Article 110 of the Constitution stipulates that a presidential election be held 30-120 days before the incumbent president’s term expires. Section 5(a) of the Presidential Elections Act also requires that the Elections Commission announce the opportunity to submit the names of potential presidential candidates to the public between July 12 and 21 this year. A President Elect has to be announced before October 11, 2018; therefore, a presidential election will be announced in six short months.

President Abdulla Yameen has long since announced his intention to run for a second term; he has been pledging campaign vows at every opportunity. His ambition to get reelected is felt at all his public appearances; be it an inauguration or a commencement ceremony, citizens get ample information about his plans and aspirations.

President Abdulla Yameen speaks at PPM press conference. PHOTO: HUSSAIN WAHEED/MIHAARU

Plagued with indecision, the opposition camp is stagnated on the issue of choosing a candidate to run against President Yameen, while the citizens are anxious to deliberate on what the opposition will offer. The dream woven by the opposing side can very easily remain just a dream.

The dilemma faced by the opposition is evident as the specific people they want as their candidates are stuck in a legal whirlwind.

The opposition proposes two theories for the solution; one is that they hold a joint primary and come up with one candidate to run against President Yameen.

This utopian idea sounds very fair, but the reality of the situation is each party in the opposition wants their own choice to be given the candidacy. Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) wants the former President Mohamed Nasheed to be handed the candidacy, while Jumhoory Party wants its leader Qasim Ibrahim to win the candidacy and Adaalath Party also favors Sheikh Imran Abdulla to be the candidate.

Jumhoory Party leader Qasim Ibrahim; the bank accounts of the wealthy tycoon's Villa Shipping and Trading Company have been frozen. PHOTO/MIHAARU

The common problem they face is that all three of them lack the qualities stipulated by Article 109 of the Constitution. They all are serving jail sentences that bar them from being eligible as presidential candidates.

Apart from the jail sentence, Jumhoory Party’s leader Qasim Ibrahim’s age would also become an obstacle, as he is over 65 years of age. A recent amendment to the Constitution requires all presidential candidates to be below 65 years of age.

The harsh truth of the dilemma is that it is already too late. The identity of the candidate who will oppose President Yameen is knowledge that the citizens should have beforehand. There is no room to wait around, alleging corruption and thievery against President Yameen without providing a strong candidate for replacement.

According to some, regardless of international pressure, President Yameen is unlikely to give Nasheed or Qasim the opportunity to run in the upcoming elections.

A file photo shows former president Nasheed speaking during a MDP rally. PHOTO/MDP

If this weren’t true, the first charge against Nasheed would not have been dropped, only to be replaced by a charge that carries a lengthier jail sentence. Additionally, if Qasim is to be afforded the opportunity, there would not have been a change to the Constitution which alters the ages of eligible candidates. Similarly, there would not have been a charge of bribery against Qasim based on controversial allegations.

If the opposing parties cannot agree to one candidate as per the first theory, the second theory is that each party will provide a separate candidate. The first options, even per the second theory, are still the same three candidates: Nasheed from MDP, Qasim from JP and Imran from Adhaalaath.

“There are other choices for candidates and they will be revealed to all at the appropriate time. If a candidate is announced now, they will be forced into the same circumstances as Nasheed and Qasim. Some allegation or the other will be leveled against them and they will be thrown in jail: that is a fact,” a person high up in opposition activities had stated.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla leaves the High Court after his final appeal hearing. PHOTO/MIHAARU

“President Yameen does not have the courage to run in a competitive election. Therefore, if a candidate whom he thinks can give him some competition arises, they will be sent right to jail.”

It is not sufficient to simply say that there are other choices. It is already past time that the candidates are presented in the public arena for the electorate to form opinions about the candidates. The electorate must know of the candidates’ manifestos and policies in advance. It is becoming too late for the citizens to make informed decisions based on the solutions that the candidates have to offer.