MDP's 12 Defectors: A significant obstacle for President Solih

The Maldives was jolted last week when 12 MPs representing the main-ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) abruptly left the party. The development was the culmination of weeks of intensifying internal divisions within the party, with one group throwing its full support behind President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the other behind MDP President and Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed. The 12 MDP members resigned from MDP after the party ruled that its Parliamentary Group leader, Henveiru Central MP Ali Azim, had violated the party's constitution - a decision which resulted in him being expelled from the party.

The MPs' departure from the party and their subsequent announcement of their intention to form a new political party has raised speculations that Nasheed, who spearheaded the anti-government faction within MDP, may soon join the new party and contest in the upcoming presidential election. Although the repercussions of this development on the Maldives' political climate remain unclear, one thing is certain- the Maldives' political landscape is set for a dramatic transformation in the days ahead.

Nasheed is among those who worked relentlessly to bring about a multiparty system in the Maldives. Impressively, Nasheed has contested every presidential election held under the new constitution except for the 2018 election. He contested the 2008 presidential election on an MDP ticket and came second in the initial round of voting, behind then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom. Then, through a historic collaboration of all political parties in the Maldives aligning with MDP, Nasheed emerged victorious in the second round, effectively bringing an end to Gayyoom's 30-year regime.

Just three years and two months into Nasheed's presidency, mounting public dissatisfaction with the government led to a 22-day demonstration, ultimately forcing Nasheed's resignation. Following his unsuccessful tenure, Nasheed sought to regain the presidency through the 2013 election, once again with MDP rallying behind him. However, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom secured victory with support from all other political parties in the Maldives.

During the early stages of President Yameen's tenure, Nasheed faced terrorism charges related to the illegal arrest of a judge in 2012, the very act which led to Nasheed's resignation, resulting in a 13-year prison sentence. While serving his sentence, Nasheed sought medical treatment overseas and gained asylum in the UK. When the 2018 election came around, Nasheed's bid to contest the election proved unsuccessful. With no hope of Nasheed being able to represent MDP, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ran in the elections on an MDP ticket, and with the support of all political parties except the then-ruling party, he won the election leading to Yameen's removal from power.

Although Nasheed's political aspirations failed in 2018, his recent endeavors to regain influence in the political arena have also fallen short. In the MDP presidential primary held in February, Nasheed ran against President Solih with hopes of proving his strong standing within the party but suffered a significant defeat. This led to the formation of the party's now-breakaway Fikuregge Dhirun faction, with Nasheed refusing to accept the majority's decision. Nasheed's questionable political motives resulted in the fragmentation of MDP, the forefront of political unity in the Maldives in the past.

In the present day, the sudden exodus of 12 pro-Nasheed MPs from the party and their subsequent announcement of their intention to form a political party gives strength to the possibility of Nasheed, who is yet to leave MDP, coming on as the new party's presidential candidate. The departure of these MPs has also dealt a significant blow to the MDP, once known for its unwavering solidarity, as the party now grapples with a large number of Nasheed supporters leaving the party in droves.

With only two months remaining until the presidential election, the MDP faces its greatest challenge yet, causing jeopardy to its ambition to re-elect President Solih for a second term. The recent political developments strongly indicate that President Nasheed will contend against President Solih, his friend turned adversary, in the first round of the election. Even before the election has started, President Solih is already faced with his first defeat, as these rogue defectors are expected to hold the government accountable through the Parliamentary and on the streets in the days ahead.

Meanwhile, the country's main opposition and second largest party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), is battling its own challenges, with its leader and presidential candidate, former president Yameen behind bars. However, the party continues to project a strong and united appearance, an advantage for the party over MDP's evident division. Undoubtedly, the party would rally behind any candidate it chooses to field or back, with the party already working hard to maintain its resolute unity.

The reality in the current political landscape is that, with the MDP divided and the PPM's ranks appearing unfaltering, PPM has a better chance of winning the first round of the election than any other party. In such a situation, all parties aside from the MDP will have the opportunity to form a coalition with the PPM for a second round. Therefore, the most likely scenario is that PPM is the closest to winning the presidential election this September.