January 31, 2010

MALDIVES: Gayoom quits from Contesting Party and Presidential Polls

By Dr. S.Chandrasekharan.

On 25th January, former President Gayoom in a televised news conference, made a surprising announcement that he will not be contesting the Presidential elections due in 2013 and for the party leadership of DRP anymore.

According the party rules, once Gayoom does not contest the party leadership polls, he automatically eliminates himself from contesting in the ensuing Presidential polls.

Though pressed by many of his followers to stay one, an emotional Gayoom said that he made the decision after careful thought as he was convinced that Maldives is a young nation and therefore the mantle of leadership must be handed over to the younger generation.

He also said that he is not young anymore- 72 years old! And that he would like to spend time with his family. Though the selection of a successor is to be done by the DRP Congress to be held between 20 and 21st February, he said that his personal choice for succeeding him would be the deputy leader Thasmeen Ali. There are already two other contestants waiting to be nominated- Gayooms’ brother and leader of PA Abdulla Yaameen and also the former foreign minister Abdulla Shaheed.

President Nasheed was away on a foreign tour and his reaction as expected was one of generous praise. He said " I would like to congratulate former President, President Gayoom who after ruling the country for 30 long years, serving to the best of his ability and doing so much for the country decided to retire. I wish him all the best and I wish his party all the best."

But the President’s office was not so charitable- The statement said that "His (Gayoom’s) leadership could also be associated with three things- torture, lack of social justice and rampant corruption and despotism and nepotism.

It is not the first time that we see a "disconnect" between the President and his Office. One wonders who is running the Presidential office or is the Office running the President?

Gayoom’s stock would have gone up, had he retired from politics soon after the promulgation of the new constitution. Having served for 30 years as President and a powerful president as such, he should have gracefully retired and allowed the younger generation to take over. Instead he had to undergo the humiliation of being defeated by the very person who led the revolt against him and his autocratic regime.

Till last month, there were reports to indicate that Gayoom was still looking for contesting the 2013 Presidential elections and it is not clear what made him decide now when there was no immediate pressure. Among the reasons I could see were

1. There were calls from within his party to retire and give way to the younger leaders.

2. He was looking for a deal with the government to ensure that he did not have the same fate as his own predecessor ( Ibrahim Nasir) who was sent into exile and never allowed to come back. Though denied, there has to be some sort of an understanding.

3. He was able to get a very generous package as pension and other benefits to suit his lifestyle though he has not succeeded so far in getting full immunity for his past actions.

4. He would have assessed that his chances of winning the next presidency were not that bright as he had expected. This would also have affected the survival of the party he created in 2006.

Though Gayoom made many mistakes that included putting down the opposition movement with a heavy hand and economic profligacy in the later years, his main achievement was in bringing in a new and a viable democratic constitution. All the pillars of democracy as we know are in place and are getting strengthened. He should also be proud of the advances Maldives has made in the last thirty years. Anyone who has seen Maldives in the 1980s and now, would appreciate the advances made by the country.

Gayoom was a product of Al Azhar University, Cairo and has specialised in Sharia. He was an admirer of the well-known scholar Sayyed Qutb of Egypt. Yet, he more than anyone else understood the perils of religious extremism and kept the fundamentalists at bay in Maldives.

It is difficult to see DRP without the guidance of Gayoom and there is none in DRP who has his reach and influence. There are likely to be some defections in the immediate future but it is certain new leaders will arise and act as a responsible opposition. The DRP cadres did not act responsibly on 29th night when they protested over the restoration of salaries to the civil servants when the government state minister Mohamed Naheem was surrounded and assaulted. The Police had to use tear gas to disperse the crowd.!

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