Poll dispute lays down ominous marker for opposition primary

The dawn of a new year usually brings renewed hope for people throughout the world. A new beginning perhaps. Multiple resolutions, definitely. People use it as a pretext to look to right the wrongs in their lives. But year in year out only a handful succeed. The same can be said for Maldives politics. Unprecedented political strife has ravaged the once peaceful island nation since its first democratic elections in 2008. Every year, the around 400,000 populace rather foolishly pin their hopes on the country's 'cult leader' like politicians to restore even a semblance of peace and stability.

But even the most naive would not be swayed into such wishful thinking this year. After all its elections year. The only year when the people matter albeit until voting day. Politicians swarm out of the woodwork to be with the people. We have them in our homes, telling us exactly what we want to hear and making promises we know they won't keep.

For a country that has witnessed a police mutiny, the premature end of a government, nationwide protests and a marathon presidential election, political unrest is the norm. But despite it all, 2018 is on course to become even uglier and the battle for the country's hot seat is on the brink of breaking into all out war.

In one corner is incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. As the man who came to power on the back of the support of every political party in the country barring one enters the final year of his five year term, he now remains politically isolated and alone.

He had exploited his majority in parliament and the rather finger on lips 'influence' over the judiciary to suffocate and ultimately eliminate his rivals. One by one, the political playing field has been cleared to make way for his re-election next year. His elder half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was unceremoniously deposed from the very party he founded while the rest including former president Mohamed Nasheed have been jailed on more than contentious charges.

In the face of oblivion, the opposition led by Gayoom and Nasheed along with Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla inked a once unthinkable pact to form what they called a 'reform alliance'.

But with the presidential elections now just around the corner, there in lies the rub. With the cream of the alliance ruled out either because of the presidency age cap or a criminal sentence, there has been talk of a single opposition candidate emerging for an ultimate face off against president Yameen and his re-election hopes.

However, the extremely contrasting political ideologies make the opposition 'cocktail' quite volatile. And the fact that the opposition has been unable to name a candidate just 10 months before the elections has given further weight to a more than possible rift. Despite assurances to the contrary, the so called truth the opposition has tried to sell remains hard to digest. The opposition has desperately tried to quell the ever increasing rumours of division, even suggesting an all party primary to elect a candidate.

But the notion of a primary and how that would even work sounds more far-fetched and a wee bit fantastical with Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) heads and shoulders above the other two parties in terms of party membership numbers. And where that leaves the now 'party-less' Gayoom is anybody's guess.

Even if the alliance somehow came up with a fair formula for a primary, the outcome whatever it maybe could ignite the already skeptical supporters of the individual parties. This fact, like a raw nerve was exposed over the result of a recent opinion poll conducted by opposition aligned Raajje TV recently on who should be the opposition candidate for the presidential elections.

Gasim emerged as the clear winner with Nasheed shockingly coming third behind Imran. The simple poll result sparked a war of words with accusations of vote 'rigging' mostly from aggrieved Nasheed's hardcore supporters.

So if a result of a simple and hardly relevant online poll spilled into such conflict, what it could mean for any winner of an official primary between the opposition parties remain ominous at best. If their leaders cannot outright decide on a single candidate, clearly laid bare by their decision to nominate candidates for 'discussions' of a candidate, how can one expect their loyal followers to accept the result of an already debatable primary.