Gloves are off, knives come out as crack in Maldives' united opposition widens

With the crunch presidential elections just a mere months away, the stakes in Maldives politics have arguably never been higher. This fact has been accentuated by the once unimaginable alliances the tiny island nation has witnessed over the past year or so after everyone who could challenge incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's re-election hopes were ruthlessly put behind bars.

One can say, former presidents and bitter political rivals Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed had been forced into an alliance by tyranny. The duo until now had teamed up with Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla to deliver significant blows to president Yameen.

The battle for political supremacy has raged on for the best part of two years, first through the ruling party, then the parliament and the last being through the Supreme Court. But the best efforts of the united opposition came up short - as they won a few battles but lost the war. Now each and every one of them are convicted criminals while some are worse - terrorists.

The presidential elections arguably remain the only saviour for the jailed leaders. A win for president Yameen would certainly mean the not so immediate future inside a jail cell for the convicted leaders. Before the landmark Supreme Court ruling early February, there was talk of a single candidate - endorsed by the four leaders to go up against president Yameen. But that always seemed rather far-fetched. To think anyone of the leaders - barring perhaps Sheikh Imran, would voluntarily handover the reins and effectively their futures to a political inferior was quixotic at best, even though none of them, as of yet constitutionally qualify to be president.

However, this time there was a faint glimmer of hope for the people. They were all singing the same tune in near perfect harmony. Pictures of once bitter rivals, smiling, laughing and arms around shoulders were strewn across social media and mainstream media alike. Long overdue apologies were made, past sins absolved, enemies duly forgiven and quite remarkably, even celebrated as heroes. With their futures at stake, there was hope that common sense, patriotism and not personal political ambitions would triumph this time around. But one should never make the rookie mistake of attaching hope to politicians as the single candidate talks stuttered and stumbled before as expected it fell apart.

Now Nasheed in exile has already launched his campaign via Skype - albeit for the presidential primary of his own party. No one challenged him as history would tell one not to even dare. Gasim, the business tycoon is up to his old tricks. He has begun to garner some of the more outspoken heavy hitters over to his side. He, just like Nasheed has been dubbed as the presidential candidate by his party. The respective campaigns are now truly underway with the elections announced for September. But the country has already seen and heard the crack in the so-called 'reform alliance' widen as the gloves came off during the rallies. Gasim's side has publicly but quite subtly blamed Nasheed for the breakdown in the coalition and its failure to nominate a single candidate for the elections.

Despite the obvious end of the alliance, so far the deriding and the blame game have been rather tenuous, professional and even courteous. But as the archipelago edges closer to election day, battle lines would be drawn, old rivalries would resume, enemies would once again become arch nemesis, knives would be drawn and the backstabbing would truly begin.