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Maldives: Local Council Elections and other Developments:

Paper No. 5640                                    Dated 30-Jan-2014

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan

Elections to the Local councils took place on Jan 18 and the results announced indicate that there has been no significant shift in the loyalties of the people from that of the Presidential elections.

The Government Coalition obtained 465 seats, with 71 Atoll council seats, 3 City Council seats and 391 island council seats.  The PPM of President Yameen obtained 281 seats, while its coalition partners Jumhooree obtained 125 and the MDA 59.

On the other hand, the MDP obtained in all 457 seats just 8 seats short of the ruling coalition and what is significant is that the party’s vote percentage remained intact despite being in the opposition.

Some significant observations include:

* The voter turnout unlike the Presidential elections was much less and this is because of the fact that one third of the voters lived and worked away from their registered islands of residence.

* The MDP won a majority in both the city Councils of Male and Addu that account for 40 percent of the electorate.  This indicates that the trend seen in the Presidential elections continues and the MDP is yet to make a headway in rural areas.

* The PPM claims that it would have had better results had it not been for some of its members contesting as independents and winning in the seats allotted to other coalition partners. There was a strange case of both the MDP and the Jumhooree of the ruling coalition campaigning together in a local council dividing between themselves 3 seats for MDP and 2 for Jumhooree.  It appears that despite an understanding the PPM contested all the five seats in that particular council  allotted to the Jumhooree.

* The election indicates the fragility of the ruling coalition which can survive only with the support of other partners particularly the Jumhooree.  The coming elections to the Majlis is also being fought with PPM contesting 49 of the 85 seats leaving the rest to the Jumhooree and the MDA.  It will be interesting to see how the two top leaders Yameen and Gasim are going to get along for the next five years!

Surprisingly both the MDP and the PPM have expressed satisfaction over the results of the council elections.  

Nasheed of the MDP saw it as a great victory for the MDP and has even claimed that after the elections to the Majlis he would go for the impeachment of President Yameen!  He said- I quote- “The Maldivian citizens still want an MDP government and for Maldives to be ruled according to MDP philosophy.  I would like to tell the Maldivian public- do not be disheartened.  God willing without much difficulty we will take over the government” The exuberance shown by Nasheed is rather premature!

Yameen on the other hand, also appeared to be greatly satisfied.  He said “the results of the council elections showed huge support for our coalition.  So I am satisfied.”

So far President Yameen has made the right moves.  His visit to Sri Lanka was a success.  He signed three MOUs relating to 1. On transnational crime 2.  Developing Police Cooperation 3.  Vocational training and skills development.  He took his coalition partner Gasim Ibrahim along for the visit and the Sri Lankan press went out of the way to give equal prominence to Gasim during the visit.

India has finally restored full visa facilities for the Maldivians.  During the visit to India Yameen said that the GMR is open to invest in Maldives though the case of restoring the contract for the Nasir international airport may not be politically possible.

The only problem Yameen may face in future will be in handling the Home Minister who is widely described as a “loose Cannon.”  The Home Minister without consulting his chief or other colleagues suddenly declared that death penalty will be implemented soon ( a departure from past stand) and that “lethal injections” will be used for execution!

President Yameen in one of his speeches gave a clear account of the foreign policy and its objectives of Maldives.  He added that the aim is to increase economic self sufficiency as a requirement of an independent foreign policy.

Broadly speaking, he said that the foreign policy will to protect and sustain selfhood and Islam of Maldives- a policy that will sustain the independence, security and sovereignty of Maldives.  Specifically he made the following points:

* Protecting national independence.
* Increasing national security
* Protecting Islamic unity and providing Islamic characteristics internationally
* Increasing economic self sufficiency
* Increasing South Asian Regional Cooperation
* Providing quality Service for Maldivians living abroad.
* Strengthening and developing Maldivian Foreign service.
* Increase in cooperation with Indian Ocean States in combating terrorism, piracy, other non traditional security threats and get more involved in keeping world peace.
* Improve relations with international civil society organisations and think tanks.

In another context, President Yameen reiterated his intention to improve relations with Arab countries as a priority of government’s foreign policy.

Yameen’s foreign minister had added of two specific challenges- one faced by small states and other of climate changes.

In all, the foreign policy objectives appear to be clear and doable though one would have expected of improving relations with India as an objective when it had taken a downturn during the presidency of Waheed. Another point to be noted is the intention to get closer to the Arab countries. Will the "Wahabi" influence increase?  It could.