Nasheed's party congress could shift Maldives politics

The talk of the town in the past few weeks has certainly been the once unimaginable rift within self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

If opposition grapevine is to be believed, there is a storm brewing which threatens to cause a major shift in leadership dynamics of the party with arguably the largest support base in the country.

Nasheed's 'selfish' political ambition has led to a fraction in MDP leadership and the upcoming extra-congress could prove pivotal in the months that remain for the crunch presidential elections.

There was once hope that Nasheed would step aside and back a realistic coalition candidate to go up against incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom in September. But Nasheed contested and won the recently concluded party primary to secure the MDP presidential ticket which has since been rejected by the archipelago's electoral watchdog.

The facts remain simple. MDP and its loyal supporters want Nasheed as their undisputed leader. The overwhelming votes in his favour though he was unchallenged proves that Nasheed is and would forever remain the spirit of MDP. But Nasheed most definitely would not be eligible to contest come September. No matter how controversial or contentious the 13 year prison sentence maybe, Nasheed remains a convicted criminal. Ineligible to be a presidential candidate as stipulated under the constitution.

There in lies the rub for the now fractured MDP leadership. It appears as if most of them had expected Nasheed would not put his name up for the party ticket for the greater good. More importantly avoid the now obvious divisions within the crucial alliance it has with the other political parties and leaders.

But Nasheed has refused to back-down. He remains adamant that his friends in the west would force his name on the ballot. He recently was quoted having said that there was "no back-up." It was him or bust.

So the sudden plans to hold an extraordinary congress, especially with Nasheed still continuing to campaign for the elections appear that the hugely popular leader has forced the party's hands to an eventuality.

The congress also comes at a time when an alternate name has emerged from Nasheed's shadow. MDP parliament group leader and veteran lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih commands respect from not only inside MDP but even from the government as well. He is as likely as any that the remaining opposition parties would get behind. Thus far he has even been publicly tipped by top opposition officials as the "back-up" in case Nasheed cannot contest.

According to party sources, there seems to wide support for Solih but most are resigned to whisper as not to irk their leader. Because history tells us that Nasheed despite being globally hailed as a champion of democracy does not take too kindly to any challenge from inside his own camp. Getting on the wrong side of Nasheed could end political careers.

But there appears to be a rising rebellion, as many top MDP officials and lawmakers were glaringly missing from the ceremony held recently to officially present the party ticket to Nasheed, albeit in absentia.

So what could MDP be planning with honestly a rather untimely congress with barely two months left for the elections. The obvious answer is that MDP is planning massive amendments to its charter as presently there is no clause on what would happen if the party's presidential ticket holder is unable to contest the polls.

The party is believed to be taking the decision out of Nasheed's hands with allowances made in the charter for possible outcomes. If Nasheed, the party's presidential ticket holder cannot contest, then the congress could also vote to defer the authority to pick a candidate to the party's council.

This means that Nasheed's own party could take away his chance to stand for elections as he remains in exile, miles away from the capital where the decisions would be made. But one would be hard-pressed to label such a move - if it comes to fruition as a 'mutiny'. Because the presidential elections is now the only remaining way to oust president Yameen and secure the release of jailed political leaders including Nasheed.

Why Nasheed is willing to jeopardize his future and freedom is a debate for another day. The outcome of the upcoming MDP congress could cause a seismic shift in the already volatile Maldives politics.

But this time it appears that Nasheed's party are not willing to bend to his every whim and could ultimately emerge with a new leader at the helm.