I have said in the past that many people find it hard to trust Nasheed and recent revelations about his relationship with President Waheed put this into perspective.
by Dr Hassan Saeed
At this time of reflection, I want to put on record my own experience.
Shortly after my resignation from President Gayyoom’s cabinet in 2007, I visited London accompanied by two close friends. Through a series interviews with the BBC and the Independent, I and my team launched our 2008 presidential election campaign. We were then known as the New Maldives movement.
Whilst in London we also held a number of meetings. This included some with members of the then opposition U.K. Conservative Party. One such meeting was with a senior Conservative MP who had been closely working the MDP. During the meeting in his office, he remarked that the MDP leadership lacked experience and competency and that he would ask the MDP leadership to back the New Maldives team in the 2008 presidential election.
Perhaps he did?
Shortly after we returned from London the MDP held primaries to pick its presidential candidate. A number of senior MDP officials from Addu and elsewhere met me conveying a message from Nasheed. That message was very clear; Nasheed would contest the MDP primaries, but he did not intend to contest the Presidential election. If he were to win the MDP primaries, he would back me.
This was not just local MDP officials making rash promises; Nasheed himself came to visit and told me that I commanded substantial support within the MDP. He asked for my support to win those primaries. He even told me further that his own mother supported me. Almost immediately after our meeting an older woman called me. She said she was Nasheed’s mother and how big a fan of me she was and that she would get fully involved in my election campaign.
Many in Nasheed’s door-to-door campaign teams would call and tell me that he was making it crystal clear to MDP voters that if he won in the primaries he would back me.
Nasheed did win. Initially, I did not hear from him for several days. My colleagues contacted him. A meeting was arranged. Nasheed’s team consisted of Ibrahim Mohamed Salih, Ameen Faisal and Nasheed himself. From our side Dr. Jameel, Dr. Shaheed and myself attended.
Nasheed agreed to be my running mate with the MDP to get 75% of cabinet posts. However if elected President on this ticket I would have had the authority to veto incompetent and corrupt nominations from the MDP. In view of what seemed a good arrangement for all sides, we agreed this. We even shook hands on it before we finished the meeting.
Nasheed called an MDP Qawumee Majlis (Nations Council) meeting. He then contacted his close aides to mobilize their support for our agreement. The MDP member for the Constitutional Assembly Mr. Adnan Haleem floated the proposal to the MDP National Council. The Council unanimously endorsed the arrangement for Nasheed to be my running mate.
A meeting of senior officials from both sides was arranged to discuss joint campaign funding.
All seemed to be arranged. We would have change in the Maldives and it would have comprised an alliance that the subsequent first round Presidential election results shows could have secured up to 41.58% - ahead of Gayyoom’s 40.34%.
However what seemed to be solid turned out to be thin air. To my surprise immediately after the meeting a senior official from Adalat Party called me and said that Nasheed had asked MDP backing for his presidential campaign!
That was the last time I heard from Nasheed or from his team on our agreement and joint campaign. There was no explanation to me or to any wider audience justifying this turnabout.
At the time, those of us in the New Maldives movement had to rapidly shift our own focus to coalition building; to preparing an election manifesto and drawing up a financial plan.
Then suddenly I received a call from Nasheed that he wanted to meet. Even though I and my colleagues felt let down, I agreed and we met in my office.
He told me he had decided to contest the Presidential election and then out of the blue told me that he wanted me to be his running mate. After a long period of discussion towards one course of action, here was Nasheed proposing something completely different.
I wished him success but politely declined his offer. I did not even bother to ask him what happened to our agreement. Disappointed with my response, Nasheed left.
A few weeks later I received a late night call from Nasheed wanting to meet me urgently. At first I said I was busy. There seemed little point in discussing the breakdown of a previous agreement. He insisted, so giving him some benefit of doubt, I offered to meet him the following morning.
Again we were to meet at my office and he was the first to turn up. Nasheed again asked me to be his running mate, and this time said that he would resign a week after inauguration!
He also said to me that I would have a free hand to pick the cabinet and then would straight away sign his resignation dated exactly a week after his inauguration! He further said to me he would also sign an agreement to that effect! After the previous experience I had with him, I was unconvinced he would live up to what he said. It also seemed to be a strange way to run for elective office. Following my refusal to deal, it now seems he may have refined this ‘offer’ when it came to negotiating an agreement for Dr Waheed to be his running mate.
Of the five candidates, President Gayyoom (40%) and Nasheed (25%) made it to the second round of the Presidential elections. I secured over 16% and came third to the final two candidates.
After considerable deliberation among the senior members of my own campaign team I pledged unconditional support for Nasheed. “Unconditional” meant we didn’t want to be part of Nasheed’s government – I had some experience of how that would work from my previous dealings with him. Nevertheless, having campaigned for change at the time, we would support a change of government.
Tired from a long election campaign, I, along with my team, took a break. But soon it became clear that our moral support alone was not enough for Nasheed to win the election. It was apparent that many others simply did not trust him nor had faith in his team’s ability.
Soon it became clear to everyone involved that something had to be done and done quickly. Between the first round and second round of voting there were only 20 days left for campaigning.
It was then that a group of businessman came up with the idea. They suggested since people didn’t trust Nasheed that we should convince Nasheed to make a pledge to go for early election. I told them that was something we could sell to the public.
They met Nasheed who immediately agreed to the policy. A meeting was organized to discuss the details in my office. It was agreed that Nasheed would resign within 8-12 months and hold another election. A news conference was to be held on that very day to announce it. However at that point he did not make the announcement.
A few days later, in a nationally live telecast event, he finally announced a mid-term election if he were to win the election. From Washington to London, it made headlines around the world. Immediately we saw a huge boost in his support. Suddenly funding start pouring in.
With that promise all the opposition parties got together and formed a Patriotic United National Front. The New Maldives campaign team took over strategy and media work for the remainder of the campaign.
I believe this made the difference at the end of the campaign. A united opposition campaign led to a second round vote tally that showed that Gayyoon only increased his vote share by just under 5% while Nasheed increased his share by over 28%.
Yet again we were to be disappointed in our trust for Nasheed. In his first week in office, he denied having promised a mid-term election!
When his exact words were quoted, he said he was then referring to upcoming Parliamentary elections! It did not do him any good, he later lost those anyway.
After the Parliamentary elections he then said that when he referred to mid-term election he meant the local council elections – which again he also lost.
Finally after his resignation on February 7, he said this is the mid-term election he promised. He then demanded the newly sworn in President to announce an early election date!
Clearly a ‘mid-term’ for him came in many different guises, with the latter example showing he did not even want the second half of the term to which a mid-term was to refer to!
To my further surprise I now discover that Nasheed promised to Dr. Waheed that he would resign and hand over power halfway through!
For Nasheed’s supporters all these inconsistencies and double-dealing are not lies. They are not even deceptions. For them Nasheed has simply outwitted his political opponents.
But in the real world to which most people in the Maldives live; the rest of us will say that surely they have no right to claim a democratic mandate for a second-half Presidential term their own leader had announced many times he would not serve. And most certainly they have no right to ask “Where is my vote?”
The question for those involved in Maldives politics, for his MDP colleagues and most importantly for the voters of the Maldives is ‘can any of us really trust Nasheed’?
Note: Dr Hassan Saeed is currently the Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik