Chief opposition MP Solih tipped to take Nasheed's place

Self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed's sudden decision to withdraw from the presidential race has left the island nation in shock.

Though the hugely popular opposition leader's candidacy has been in serious doubt over his terrorism conviction, no one really expected him to relinquish his chance for a second term.

There had been 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.

Nasheed's refusal to back-down had threatened to destroy the once unimaginable alliance he had formed with former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the other two opposition party leaders - Gasim Ibrahim and Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Nasheed's insistence on running the presidential race had also threatened opposition hopes of nominating a mutually agreeable single candidate for the crunch elections. It had also reportedly caused a major rift inside his own party, especially after some senior opposition officials publicly backed an alternative to take Nasheed's place.

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.

As the news of Nasheed's decision filtered in, there has already been wide support for Solih to take Nasheed's place as the MDP candidate. Nasheed is expected to publicly announce the decision during MDP's national congress which is set to begin tomorrow in Alif Alif Atoll Ukulhas island.

Nasheed's sudden announcement also came days after Solih flew to Sri Lanka to meet with the MDP leader.

According to party sources, MDP is now expected to amend its charter on Saturday to give the authority to the party's council to pick a presidential candidate after skipping a primary. When that happens, the decision of the council appears to have already been made.

A seismic shift in Maldives politics looms. And many believe that Solih, the soft spoken yet experienced politician who has served as lawmaker since 1995 could unite the now divided opposition usher the country into a new era.