Opposition candidate talk 'all bark and no bite'?

While it has become obvious in recent days that the Maldives politics can be unpredictable and follow unprecedented events; everyone is currently focused on the looming presidential election that is set late in 2018.

The Indian Ocean archipelago witnessed a storm brewing in its backyard in a rather unexpected manner when the country's top court on February 1 ordered the release of nine political dissidents including the now self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed and former vice president under Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor.

This was a surprising win for the opposition and an unprecedented loss for the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM); or so it was believed when the event unfolded.

The supporters and anti-government sentimentalists were quick to celebrate this win and it resulted in government dispatching officers of Maldives Police Service to break public gatherings and protests led by the opposition.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom tried all hands possible in an attempt to avert or redirect the top court's decision; he relentlessly tried to change the orders to no avail.

Finally when all seemed lost and when push came to shove, he surprised the already baffled international community who were keeping one eye open on the developing political cataclysm in Maldives by announcing a 15-day state of emergency in the island nation; the second under Yameen Abdul Gayoom's administration.

Not only was a presidential decreed emergency imposed into the state but also a great deal of the Maldives Constitution articles were temporarily suspended including the Criminal Procedure Act, granting his administration and its authorities to make arbitrary detention of any publicly and loudly dissenting voice or act.

Several of the judicature act was also suspended as a means to narrow the authority vested in the country's Chief Justice and top-court judges; the final level of the local judiciary system.

Not long after the emergency proclamation former president and Yameen's half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was arrested for the alleged conspiracy to usurp the government. Maldives National Defense Force had then barged into the premises of Supreme Court and later on arrested both chief justice Abdulla Saeed and top-court judge Ali Hameed for their involving in the alleged attempted coup d'etat.

These individuals are currently under state prosecution and awaiting their respective trials.

The remainder of the three judges of the five judge top-court bench had immediately pledged fealty to Yameen Abdul Gayoom and halted the annulment of anti-defection law.

Later the special parliament sessions were held to extend the state of emergency from its initial 15-day to 30 additional days stretching the entire length of it by 45 days in total.

The associating nations lying in close vicinity to Maldives had a part to play or a word to say and they did not shy away from pushing politics. India had urged Maldives state to comply to Supreme Court's order of releasing the political prisoners as well as to lift the state of emergency.

However, the new-found buddy of Maldives state China had intervened and shot warnings at India to stay 'in their limits' and refrain from interfering in the island nation's internal affairs.

After People's Majilis (local parliament) resumed its new term in 2018 the foremost work done in local political agenda pushing involved the ruling party advancing to cement their 'fortress' by pulling in two bills that would transform the local political spectrum; more specifically it would shift the paradigm in the regime's favor.

Through what has now become largely agreed by many as a set of contentious votes the state-loyal parliamentarians voted in favor of rubber-stamping amendments to Judges Act and approving the new anti-defection law.

Ruling party and the current administration with its leader included has seemingly and one might add, rather successfully quashed all attempts by the opposition to depose Yameen from his presidential seat and further solidified their grip on the country's political platform.

The year is scheduled for the next presidential election since incumbent head of state's first term is on its way to closing. The ruling party wasted no time in launching their presidential campaign across the country and had successfully hosted rallies to muster further support to its leader.

While Election Commission has announced they would announce a full voters' registry on May; with complaint lodging and re-registration opening up in June the election is expected to take place on either late September or early October.

Campaigns on both ends are expected to officially start by July with the coveted announcement of competing candidates for presidency. Meaning that the Maldivian public is roughly five months away from witnessing another presidential election.

Despite the dates for election dawning near to us with each passing day the opposition seemed to have stepped on muddy grounds with their reform work and nominating a mutually agreed candidate representing the multi-party coalition.

The opposition has not stepped forward to announce their candidate and neither seemed to be actively working on launching their presidential campaign (and perhaps an expected anti-campaign against the regime). The window for registering their candidate is slowly narrowing as they are three months away from placing the nominated name into official documents under EC.

While the election dates are closing in on the Maldivian public everyone has been anticipating the announcement of the opposition candidate and have stampeded with questions of who they might be and what chances do they have in competing and best in winning?

"Our plan A and plan B is to make sure the government is pressured into complying with Supreme Court's February 1 order commanding release of the political detainees. Its compulsory that the government adheres to the top-court's order and anything done non-compliance to this would be illicit and illegitimate. We are actively preparing and getting ready for the presidential election but before that we would succeed in legally deposing president Yameen," prime opposition Maldives Democratic Party's (MDP) chairperson Hassan Latheef had mentioned during an interview with Avas Online earlier.

Maybe the ship for what MDP is hoping for has already sailed; given how the ruling party has managed to place 'approval stamp' regulation amendments that may have once served as constitutional loopholes in opposition's advantage. But that cannot be conceived legitimately now that the ruling party has successfully managed to depose 12 lawmakers through the anti-defection law and remove Chief Justice and top-court judge Ali Hameed from any room of authority through amendments to judges act.

Why they are still hung up on attempting to legally depose president Yameen from his seat prior to election is any man's mystery and one the public may need urgent answers.

The other play at opposition's hand currently is to employ the local parliament in a bid to constitutionally evict president Yameen from power. But that seems to be a possibility 'not-happening' rather than 'happening.'

Local Constitution dictates that a no-confidence motion of the president or the legal approach to remove him from power is achieved by gaining two-thirds of parliament approval; meaning the opposition need to muster a minimum of 57 yes-votes from a house that holds a total of 85 members.

The highest number achieved by opposition so far had only reached 45, 12 shy of an approval to depose the president. Now that the dozen floor-crossing lawmakers have been 'legally dealt with' and some of them behind bars, the chances are thinning for opposition to grab a win from this approach.

Opposition cannot expect any more olive branches from Supreme Court or the entity banding up with them for their cause. President Office minister of legal affairs Azima Shukoor had challenged opposition motives by stating that the multi-party coalition must not expect employing Supreme Court in any bids to throw the government or unseat president since it would not be constitutionally identified or accepted.

The multi-party opposition can only hope to start 'winning hearts' of the parliamentarians and make the government affiliated lawmakers switch their loyalty to their cause - a scenario that has low probability.

The other option in their 'playbook' is to address the anti-defection law and amendment to judges act to Supreme Court as a constitutional case. Should the Maldives apex court release verdict in favor of opposition and thus rescind both laws they stand to gain the 12 deposed lawmakers back again - however there would still be the question of the incarcerated members who are prosecuted for high-profile offenses.

Logically speaking the anti-government parties cannot expect to sit this out; as in wait until Supreme Court makes an official order regarding the mentioned laws and possible (or not so-possible) changes to it.

Though the multi-party coalition may seemed to have dispersing ideologies and contradicting political view-points they do however, coincide about one fundamental aspect related to today's political arena; they need to rub shoulders together if they wish to emerge with a substantial win or at least give a good fight to the ruling party's end.

Initially the idea of nominating a single candidate - mutually agreed by all political parties of the opposition - had mixed reactions to it from various political figures on the opposing spectrum.

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom had not agreed to the idea of nominating a joint-party candidate initially. According to Gayoom, a single candidate agreed by the coalition was a narrow possibility. He made the statement after keeping silent about the issue during the release of his elder son lawmaker Ahmed Faris Maumoon.

As of now, both Gayoom and his son Faris Maumoon are in jail for varying alleged offenses.

Another possible candidate that the opposition may groom for presidency may be found in MDP's parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. If one is to assess the current political situation in Maldives and where former president Mohamed Nasheed stands with regards to the possibility of him running for the office; it is a high possibility that Nasheed may eventually be seen gunning for Solih to run in his stead.

Meanwhile Jumhoory Party's leadership seems scattered and the party's deputy leader former police commissioner Abdullah Riyaz has made no strong suggestions that he was interested for the top-office many believe the business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim's party may go with its recently allied member Umar Naseer.

However, this seems like an option the opposition may not resort to given Naseer's history with MDP's leadership. JP cannot afford to lose MDP's backing right now since the latter is still the largest political party on the opposing end; and Naseer has made it vivid he would not collaborate with ex-president Nasheed or the party's leadership.

Chances of the former home minister getting nominated as the coalition led candidate is more fiction than any reality.

The smallest of the lot, Adaalath Party cannot hope to nominate a candidate given its structure and political ideology. The Maldivian population does not support a strict religiously conservative political party as much as they do for conservatively moderate ones. Meaning they would rather show support significantly to any MDP or JP nominated candidate than to support a Adaalath Party-standalone candidate.

If they plan on playing smart then chances are high the religiously conservative party would much like the previous two elections, would endorse a larger political party's ideology and vision.

Though it appears the opposition may not have come up with a fool-proof and productive plan against the ruling party, they had announced otherwise claiming a joint-party discussion has kicked off to nominate a candidate.

"We already see our candidate, and they are ready. Whether our candidate is currently in jail or out of country or even residing in Maldives is not the concern," Sameer stated during a press conference held on Monday.

This implies that the opposition has finally succeeded in electing a mutually agreed candidate and all key players in the Maldives United Opposition respected the outcome. Still Sameer's comments do not validate or guarantee whether they have actually nominated one for the task of running against incumbent president Yameen.

The opposition agrees announcing a presidency candidate right now would mean their immediate incarceration by the regime. Since the coalition strongly believes president Abdulla Yameen would engineer a way for the opposing candidate to end in jail though he purports for a transparent election with multiple candidates; every single opposition party and Gayoom's loyalists claim president Yameen does not plan on competing.

Based on all the 'surgically removed' political opponents including former vice president Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor, former defense minister Colonel (retired) Mohamed Nazim, JP leader Gasim Ibrahim and even Gayoom's lawmaker son Ahmed Faris Maumoon it appears that Yameen has single-handedly quashed any dissenting voice who may run against him in the upcoming elections.

Now the question remains; who would in fact be revealing themselves from the shadows as the single candidate running against president Yameen for the office.

While the election is drawing nearer by the day what remains to be seen is whether the opposition would announce a candidate before the window of opportunity runs out. Or their claims of selecting a mutually agreed candidate is just a pretext of something else? Whether the MUO's statements are 'all bark and no bite' remains to be seen.