Former president Mohamed Nasheed's jailing in March 2015 came as a huge blow to the opposition. But like awakening sleeping giant, it sparked outrage, daily protests and international condemnation.
Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had quite admirably spearheaded relentless efforts both locally and internationally to pressure the government into releasing Nasheed.
After growing calls for international sanctions, in January last year, the government finally caved in to allow Nasheed to travel to Britain for 'spinal surgery' in what appeared to be an internationally brokered deal.
The development was tipped by many as the much needed spark coveted by the opposition to impede the government juggernaut, especially with Nasheed under the protective wings of his beloved 'second home.'
Nasheed, much to the delight of his supporters did hit the ground running. Like scorned wives, Nasheed rallied the opposition parties and disgruntled former government officials to form a seemingly formidable force.
The subsequent birth of the Maldives United Opposition in London banding together the Maldivian Democratic Party, the Adhaalath Party, two of president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom's former deputies and his former defence minister, looked like the opposition finally meant business.
The rather far-fetched and ambitious goal of an overthrow at the time was given further weight after the mighty BBC quoted sources saying the opposition plans to move against the president “within weeks.”
According to the the British public service broadcaster, details of what was being planned was obscure but even the government dejectedly described it as a “formal attempt at ‘legally’ overthrowing the government”.
The report appeared to ruffle a few feathers sparking a series of arrest warrants, raids and revocation of several passports.
A few weeks later Nasheed's 'secret' visit to neighbouring Sri Lanka fueled further speculation of an 'imminent' overthrow.
But the supposed move rather disappointingly especially to opposition supporters, eventually fizzled out without as much a whimper and instead resulted in the government further bolstering its ranks and solidifying its position.
End of Nasheed's political career?
Nasheed has since been reduced to social media to express the 'opposition' voice. He has repeatedly vowed to return to the Maldives in time for the next presidential elections, "even if it means he would step off the plane and back into prison."
The once political activist and climate change advocate has reportedly long feared that his ineligibility to be the MDP presidential candidate would pave the way for the many ambitious 'foot soldiers' in the opposition ranks to emerge from his shadow.
Nasheed is synonymous with MDP and he is the face of the opposition. Few would argue that it remains what he knows and what he does best. Henceforth, a scenario where another leading MDP is almost unthinkable even impossible.
But the small island nation has already witnessed the 'impossible' unfold in the opposite corner. Former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's spectacular fall from grace might have been somewhat amusing to the opposition and to an extent provided a misguided sense of a poetic justice, which they would argue was long overdue.
Yet when Nasheed glances at the ugly and perverse spat between the two Gayoom brothers, he would probably see the grim reflection of his own possible fate in the not too distant future.
It's Nasheed or no one!
Ardent opposition supporters would dismiss the notion of a 'Nasheed-less' MDP as pure conjecture. That could very well be true, especially given the often erratic nature of Maldives politics. However, recent developments and more significantly, Nasheed's own comments off late suggest that the former president is struggling to keep his political future afloat.
MDP had admitted that Nasheed's second visit to neighbouring Sri Lanka was in attempt to "reunite the divided opposition party."
Nasheed had told opposition aligned Raajje TV that he had met with the party's national council and "made decisions" over the elections slated for 2018.
"MDP would not nominate a candidate for the next presidential elections, if I'm not allowed to contest," Nasheed had insisted.
Nasheed had revealed that MDP would hold a presidential primary soon adding that he would be looking to win the party ticket.
According to Nasheed the party had already decided on a course of action if the elections commission rejects the MDP candidate.
One option, Nasheed said was for MDP to boycott the elections, despite it being an "alien" concept for the opposition party.
"The second option would be for MDP support another candidate, which would be entirely up to the party. But one thing is clear, MDP wants to end president Yameen's presidency," he added.
Nasheed also admitted that the party faces deep divisions if he stepped aside adding that a "government friendly" candidate could also emerge.
That brief interview alone sheds some light on Nasheed's fears of losing his vice like grip on the opposition. His comments suggest that the former president is afraid that if he allows another to take the reins, it could very well mean the end of his political career.
Without speculating on possible replacements, let's assume for a moment, MDP manages to usurp president Yameen, win the 2018 elections and somehow frees Nasheed. But whoever is at the helm would undoubtedly look to stamp his or her own authority on MDP and anyone with even an ounce of ambition would seek re-election.
Provided the stars align which puts a MDP leader at the helm, it still does not look too promising for Nasheed. It seems rather unlikely that whomever MDP picks, would simply step aside at the end of just one term and meekly hand over the reins to Nasheed.
It's a fact that does not seem to be lost on the former president. So his suggestion of rallying behind an opposition figure who is not from MDP makes sense, albeit to him. Simply because, it would be much easier for Nasheed to mount a challenge for the presidency in five years against an 'outsider' than against someone from his own ranks.
It all sounds rather complicated and hinges on numerous unforeseeable factors. But as things stand, Nasheed faces an almost an impossible dilemma. Remain in self imposed exile and watch his precious party slip from his grasp. Or return to prison and hope president Yameen is unable to secure re-election.
But either way, it is increasing looking likely that Nasheed's political career could sink into oblivion and his legacy fade into obscurity.
AVAS online, May 10, 2017