Its been nearly a decade since Maldives politics has seen a semblance of calm. Since the country's first democratic elections in 2008, the archipelago has witnessed a police mutiny, the premature end of a government, nationwide protests and a marathon presidential election, with a tumultuous political landscape that does not look that it would quieten down.
Though no one in the Maldives would be surprised by its politics or the antics of its politicians, 2017 delivered an unfathomable development which took the entire country by shock.
The now self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, in 2008 had ousted former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom after the latter had ruled the country with an iron fist for three decades. Gayoom and Nasheed are as top government officials aptly described 'oil and water'. The best of enemies separated by their thoroughly contrasting political ideologies.
But one should never make the rookie mistake of underestimating Maldives politics. And that proved to be the case when on March 24, the unthinkable happened. Gayoom and Nasheed along with Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim and religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla inked an 'unholy' pact to form what they called a 'reform alliance'.
If one chooses to set aside the differences of the ultimate arch nemesis of Maldives politics the notion of a united opposition can be understood albeit as the last straw remaining for the opposition leaders in the face of oblivion. Incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom had flexed his majority in parliament and the rather taboo 'influence' over the judiciary to suffocate and ultimately do away with the opposition. One by one, the political playing field has been cleared to make way for the younger Gayoom's re-election next year. His elder half brother was unceremoniously deposed from the very party he founded while the rest, Nasheed, Gasim and Imran have been jailed on more than contentious charges.
The flailing opposition buoyed by the once unspeakable alliance injected a fresh impetus to its efforts against president Yameen and his government. The alliance targeted the easily swayed lawmakers, convincing as many as a dozen government MPs to back a motion to unseat the parliament speaker and his deputy. For once, president Yameen was forced onto his back-foot as he struggled to hold onto his control over the parliament and such was the relentless pressure it did appear that his term in office would come to a premature end.
However, president Yameen played his trump card. His ruling party got the Supreme Court to issue an anti-defection ruling which disqualified the rebel MPs, seizing back parliament control from the opposition. Yameen also indefinitely jailed Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon who was leading the opposition charge against his uncle and quashed much of the resistance.
Prison officials taking away Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon who has been jailed after he led the opposition charge against his uncle and incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
As the year rolled to a close, the opposition appeared to abandon its efforts to oust president Yameen from office and instead look to next year's elections. But as many expected, the alliance seem to have hit a snag on the 'elephant in the room' -- who it would pick as a candidate to challenge Yameen. With the quartet ruled out either because of the age cap on a presidential candidate or a criminal sentence, and despite assurances to the contrary, cracks in the opposition alliance have already begun to appear.
It maybe the start of the new year on the calendar. But with the presidential elections on the horizon, for Maldives politics it would be more of the same. Tumultuous, ugly and full of twists. However, despite the notoriety of the country and its politicians, it seems extremely unlikely that the year could serve up a shock more unthinkable than a Gayoom-Nasheed alliance. But when it comes to Maldives politics, one would be wise not to speak too soon.
Avas Online, January 2, 2018