Home » Breakaway Factions Could Erode Support of Parent Parties in Maldivian Elections

Breakaway Factions Could Erode Support of Parent Parties in Maldivian Elections


Campaigning in the Maldives’ fourth multi-party parliamentary elections has entered the final stretch. Voting will take place on April 21.

The fracturing of the ruling People’s National Congress (PNC) and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the fraying of old loyalties, have thrown traditional voter allegiances into question, injecting unpredictability into the contest.

In nearly 40 of the 93 constituencies, candidates from the PNC and the MDP face challengers from their respective breakaway factions, which appeal to the same vote blocs as their parent organizations.

The outcome, and the fortunes of the new administration, will be shaped by how votes split in key races.

The MDP defeat in last year’s presidential election was widely blamed on The Democrats, a splinter party led by former President Mohamed Nasheed. The Democrats did not endorse then-President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, instead fielding their own candidate, a young lawmaker, who peeled off 7 percent of the MDP presidential candidate’s vote in the first round. This helped Dr. Mohamed Muizzu, the mayor of Malé, and the candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)-PNC coalition, to emerge as the surprise frontrunner and clinch the presidency.

Shortly after Muizzu assumed office in November, Nasheed announced a hiatus from politics to become the secretary- general of the 58-nation Climate Vulnerable Forum.

When negotiations to get The Democrats to join the new Muizzu government collapsed, amid worsening relations with India, The Democrats’ leadership cited differences over foreign policy and began talks with estranged allies in the MDP.

Despite falling short of a “remarriage,” as the MDP’s chairman put it, the announcement in early December of an MDP-Democrats alliance in parliament restored the MDP’s supermajority in the 87-member house. The parties agreed to pursue legal and constitutional reforms, including capping the number of parliamentarians and political appointees.

The MDP-Democrats soon floated the impeachment of President Muizzu, but when 13 MDP MPs crossed the aisle to join the ruling PNC in late December, the opposition ranks were one vote shy of the required two-thirds majority. Consequently, Muizzu’s impeachment was stalled.

Crucially, however, the opposition parties failed to reach an agreement on jointly contesting the parliamentary elections, potentially handing an advantage to ruling PNC candidates. A plurality of the vote for instance, 35 percent in crowded fields could be enough to win under the first-past-the-post system.

The MDP, meanwhile, retains legislative control. On April 1, an anti-defection bill was passed to mandate that MPs who switch parties must resign. It came after a recent survey found overwhelming public support for ending the much-derided “transfer market” for MPs.

As of April 15, Muizzu is yet to ratify the bill. But his hands are tied as the Maldives constitution empowers parliament to override a presidential veto with a simple majority.

This power imbalance was evident in late February when the opposition majority postponed parliamentary elections from March to April, against the president’s wishes, by amending the general elections law to prohibit polls during Ramadan.

Making the most of the extra time for campaigning, Muizzu has been crisscrossing the archipelago on official visits, stressing the necessity of a pro-government majority for enacting a 200-bill legislative agenda, and decrying the MDP’s rejection of ministerial appointments and removal of funds earmarked in the budget for the government’s flagship project.

For its part, the MDP and former President Solih have been warning of dictatorial rule without an opposition majority to keep executive powers in check. Muizzu’s “top-heavy” administration has halted ongoing infrastructure projects and failed to deliver land plots and flats awarded under the MDP government’s housing schemes, Solih has alleged.

Even as he seeks to fend off the MDP’s attacks, Muizzu is facing fire from former President Abdulla Yameen, the convicted former opposition leader who once was Muizzu’s ally.

In contrast to the MDP’s split, which played out over several years before the final rupture came when Nasheed refused to endorse Solih after losing the MDP’s divisive primary in January 2023, the rift between Muizzu and Yameen erupted to the fore swiftly.

A week into Muizzu’s presidency, Yameen found himself sidelined after a triumphant transfer from prison to house arrest and abruptly left the ruling coalition. Abandoned by almost the entire leadership and activist cadre now ministers, political appointees and bosses of state-owned enterprises Yameen formed a new party called the People’s National Front (PNF).

Yameen, who is serving an 11-year sentence on bribery and money laundering charges, is permitted to move freely in the capital Malé but remains legally restricted from engaging in political activities. But he has continued to attend small rallies of the new party, posing questions from the audience after he was reprimanded for speaking at the podium. Yameen has questioned the sincerity of the government’s efforts to expel Indian soldiers based in the Maldives, the cornerstone of Muizzu’s ultra-nationalist campaign under the “India Out” slogan that he had instigated.

More recently, Yameen alleged government influence to stall the appeal of his conviction. The High Court concluded hearings in late November but has yet to deliver a judgment.

Yameen also blamed alleged government influence over the Elections Commission for the incomplete process of creating his new party, registered under his son Zain Abdulla Yameen as the main founder. As the party could not be formally registered in time, about 40 candidates affiliated with the PNF will appear as independents on the ballot paper.

On the eve of Eid, riot police cleared out the PNF leadership and founding members as they arrived for the party’s inaugural congress at Ghiyasuddin School. Earlier in the day, the private school had canceled the rental agreement. In clashes that ensued, police used pepper spray to disperse protesters.

Speaking to the media the following day, Muizzu expressed regret and lamented the deployment of the heavy-handed Specialist Operations police “against my clear instructions.” He ordered an inquiry report to be submitted by the end of the day. But the PNF dismissed the president’s disavowal as “damage control.”

Further complicating matters is uncertainty over PNC candidates. On March 31, as Muizzu went door-to-door in Malé, he was confronted by irate PNC members who accused him of barring long-serving members from January’s primaries.

Additionally, in several constituencies, Muizzu has withdrawn support for the PNC candidate and endorsed others, including those contesting as independents after losing the PNC primary. In Thimarafushi island on April 12, the candidate who won the PNC ticket led protests as two government ministers arrived to campaign for an independent candidate backed by Muizzu.

Reflecting the diminished strength of the main parties, neither has fielded candidates in all 93 constituencies. Of the 368 candidates, only 22 of whom are women, the MDP leads the way with 90 followed by the PNC with 89. Alongside 130 independent candidates and 38 candidates from The Democrats, other candidates include 10 from the Jumhooree Party, four from the Maldives Development Alliance, four from the Adhaalath Party and two from the Maldives National Party.

A total of 284,663 Maldivians are eligible to vote with 602 ballot boxes to be placed across the country as well as in India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia.

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