Nasheed vs. Solih: Who is likely to win the primary?

In three days, the Maldives' largest political party, the main-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), will hold its presidential primary to determine the party's candidate for this year's presidential election. Contesting Saturday's primary is one of MDP's most dedicated members and Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, and the party's President and Parliament Speaker, former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The whole country is waiting in anticipation to find out who will win the MDP primary and move on to the presidential election on the party's ticket. It is not just the people, but even political parties, that are holding their breath to see the election's outcome.

A new circumstance for MDP

While MDP prepares for its primary, the party's internal politics have changed dramatically over the past 17 years.

In the past, the party's most popular leader and face, President Nasheed, has controlled the party's leadership in almost all its activities. Until now, no person other than Nasheed was given a chance to contest the presidential race. Until President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih took Office, Nasheed had full control over all aspects of the party.

However, today's situation is quite different. Unlike before, with the appointment of President Solih as the party's new leader, Solih now has full control over all branches of the party. He holds a full majority in the party's National Assembly and a large majority in the party's parliamentary group. Therefore, this poses a challenge for Nasheed when it comes to the MDP presidential primary vote. While internal control within the party is essential to winning elections, the power President Solih now enjoys increases his chances of winning the primary.

Two factions in the party, huge divisions

When President Solih became the Maldives President, he decided to go ahead with the manifesto formulated by the political leaders he formed a coalition. He made the decision to implement the manifesto and fulfill the coalition's pledges as per his agreement with the other leaders. He chose to respect the majority vote of the people instead of pursuing the implementation of the MDP manifesto.

The 2018 presidential election took place while Nasheed was in exile. Upon his return to the Maldives following President Solih taking Office, Nasheed made known his desire to see the Maldives' presidential government system be changed to a parliamentary system and said it is necessary to work within the government to bring about the change.

The government's response was that the people's mandate was clear, and therefore, it was more important for the government to spend its time to achieve the manifesto that the people voted for. The President does not believe that there is any reason to change the system of government. This meant the government believed there was no room for any political moves that could cause turmoil in the country.

When President Solih and the government stood up against Nasheed on the government system change issue, for the first time, serious differences of opinion emerged at leadership level and within the party. As Nasheed's proposal could cause the government to fall mid-term and cause political chaos, it was on President Solih to maintain the coalition with his political partners from other parties. Therefore, President Solih was largely supported to remain in power and maintain the rule of the party, and two factions emerged within MDP - one with President Solih and one with President Nasheed.

Since then, the first internal vote that put Nasheed's popularity to the test was the party's Chairperson Election. In the election, Nasheed backed incumbent Chairperson Fayyaz Ismail's rival candidate, Imthiyaz Fahmy. While Fayyaz won the election with a huge margin, although not explicitly stated, President Solih supported Fayyaz. Therefore, the result of the Chairperson vote indicates that the primary outcome would be similar - with President Solih winning the party's ticket.

Allegations by the two factions

After Nasheed failed to bring to fruition his desires for political development, the government began accusing that Nasheed was making things difficult for the government in the Parliament. Members supporting the President say Nasheed is trying to weaken and corrupt the government. Many supporters of President Solih have repeatedly complained that the government is facing obstacles to carrying out projects at the desired speed.

Then came the open criticism of the government's policies by President Nasheed and his supporters. Nasheed continued attacking the government with his words, portraying that the government could not do anything right. During the primary campaign, President Nasheed launched strong verbal attacks on President Solih, saying he lacked vision, ability, and intellect.

True, there are facts in the allegations of both factions. However, the allegations are more damaging to President Nasheed. While Nasheed kept quiet for four years of the current term, his sudden expression of opinions on the government's alleged inability to perform well has other motives, some believe. Some members of the party believe the allegations and statements made by Nasheed against the government are personal. These are also facts that will affect the outcome of the primary.

The policy of securing power with a coalition

In the primary campaign, President Solih has been promoting moderate policies under the MDP slogan of "Forward". President Solih's entire campaign has been shaped to maintain the MDP government with a coalition and win the upcoming presidential election through a coalition. Experienced politicians in the country also believe a single candidate cannot win the presidential election except through a coalition.

All the presidents who have ruled under the current Green Constitution came to power in a coalition, including Nasheed himself, in 2008. Neither President Solih nor political moderates believe that there is a political party that will form a coalition with Nasheed, mostly due to Nasheed's experience with the 2008 election coalition, which fell apart in months.

President Nasheed is campaigning under the slogan "Bringing Life to an Idea". Nasheed's supporters believe that the government and the MDP leadership have broken the foundations, principles, and policies of the party. Therefore, Nasheed and his supporters believe that the MDP's original ideology should be revived. However, Nasheed has not been able to adequately showcase "how" the government has broken the party's foundations. Nasheed's main point is that the government is not properly implementing MDP policies due to the ruling coalition.

According to President Nasheed's campaign policies and speeches, he wants to have a government that is made up of only MDP. Nasheed believes that the MDP alone can win the presidential election - even if a coalition is required to move forward, the party will need an additional four to five percent of the vote only. Therefore, President Nasheed does not believe that the MDP should give up anything in order to form a coalition to come to power. Nasheed believes that if the MDP gives up anything to form a coalition, the party will be destroyed, and it is the party members that will suffer.

However, those in the MDP who are aware of the political reality believe that the MDP will be able to get the support it was not able to get in the past. While the party remains with the need for a "winning formula" to secure the election, it is more than likely that President is close to taking the primary with the support of MDP members.