With the emergence of Gasim in the presidential lineup, Gayoom's 30-year-dictatorship is looking more threatened than it ever did. Of the 8 candidates contesting this year's presidential elections here's a list of the only contenders who, to my mind, have any chance of swinging the first multi-party elections of the Maldives.
Filthy rich Gasim has the resources, the people, and the willpower to get the job done. Yes, he may employ questionable methods to achieve his goal, whether it means buying parliamentarians or voters themselves. But nobody can argue that his chances of success are very high indeed. As much as half the Maldives population may have benefited directly or indirectly from his health handouts or educational grants. Now, Gasim is effectively asking them to pay him back by voting for him. On the positive side, he's less despised than Gayoom, has more vision, and has qualified and experienced people working on his campaign.
2)Maumoon Abdul Gayoom
Regarded by most Maldivians as a washed out dictator and an object of ridicule, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, nevertheless, thinks of himself as smart, handsome, young at heart, and loved by the people. This man continues to use state funds, TV, radio, and even the national football team for his campaign. He still has control over the armed forces, and has his stooges as Island Chiefs and Atoll Chiefs although the level of their influence over ordinary islanders has diminished somewhat. If Mohamed Amin modernised the Maldives through education and social change, Ibrahim Nasir continued the gains by laying the foundations for the country's greatest foreign exchange earners: tourism and fisheries. Gayoom basked in the results of the work of his predecessors but lacked the vision to build on it. On the positive side...no I can't think of anything good to say about him!
Gayoom will be remembered as the corrupt dictator who tried to crush every attempt by the people to bring democracy; the man who sanctioned the torture and killing of defenseless Maldivians; the advocate of child sexual abuse; and, most important of all, the bad cricket player.
Anni shone in the early 90, a true radical, unafraid to take on Gayoom's cruel and corrupt dictatorship to fight for democracy and justice. His work to expose Gayoom's dictatorship to the wider world is also commendable. But his misguided pandering to the religious right is downright shameful. He has ignored the role of women in the opposition movement, and in the formation and day to day running of MDP; gender equality is not part of either his "Clean Maldives" or his "Other Maldives". He lies when it suits him, patronizes ordinary people, and finds it hard to listen to anyone who disagrees with his views.
MDP today is a fragmented movement that has lost the ideals it stood for, ideals which were rooted in a widespread desire for democracy and human rights. Lately, Anni has taken to harping on Gayoom's positive contribution to the country and insists that the dictator can run for a seventh term in office, even though the amended constitution limits leadership to two terms in office. In return, Gayoom's apologist, information minister, and hearty blogger Nasheed has said the government does not consider Anni's sentence for petty theft a disqualification for his presidential bid. All very cozy indeed, but Anni may only be joining the enemy to fight Gasim.
One of the first casualties of Anni's "dictatorship", Ibra is a brilliant orator who is slowly and steadily winning the confidence of the public. His unwavering contribution to amending the constitution, a process which he rightly called the slow, systematic stripping of Gayoom's powers, must be lauded. Unfortunately, like Anni, he never found the right balance between the contradictory ideologies of the religious right on the one hand and human rights on the other. Ibra also probably doesn't have the finances to push an aggressive campaign to get himself elected.
I really liked this man, as he stood for liberal ideals such as the freedom of religion, a fundamental human right. He stood up not only against Gayoom, but also extremists, something Anni and Ibra were too spineless to do. But he's also said to be a bit of an elitist and out of touch with ordinary people. Lately he's been heard a lot on radio and has reportedly built himself quite a fan-base. Nevertheless, his campaign, like Ibra's, just isn't aggressive enough to win a substantial electorate at this point of time.
So what does the future hold for us?
As things stand I predict a close win for Gasim. This will get Gayoom out, but will leave the country in the hands of unscrupulous, capitalist who will not only control its wealth and its parliament, but will also by the country's fledgeling media.
There's a way out, however, and that is for Anni, Ibra and Hassan join forces. If they launch a joint campaign, have elections pushed back to December as Ibra suggests, they may, just may, win the hearts and minds of the Maldivian public, if not fill their pockets.