Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives with an iron hand for three decades before giving way to more democratic forces, is back. The party he founded, the Progressive Party of Maldives, has emerged as the single largest party in a surprisingly trouble-free parliamentary election in the Maldives on March 22. More important, the PPM and its allies have won a nearly two-thirds majority in the 85-member People’s Majlis, the Maldives’ Parliament. The PPM on its own has 34 seats; the Jumhooree Party, run by a business tycoon, won 15 seats, and the Maldives Development Alliance managed five. The Maldivian Democratic Party, whose nominee, Mohamed Nasheed, was elected President in the first multi-party elections in 2008, lost its numbers in Parliament, winning just 24 seats. Islamists have got representation in the Majlis with the Aadalath Party’s lone success. The elections were held even as the head and deputy of the country’s Elections Commission (EC) were removed by the Supreme Court. Ahead of the polls, there were widespread complaints of distribution of money and goods. With no firm law in place, and being virtually headless, the EC looked the other way, and went ahead with the polls. Transparency Maldives, which monitored the polls, said the process was well administered and transparent but that wider issues of money politics threaten the democratic process.
This result leaves the PPM now at the helm in both the legislature and the executive, and with Gayoom-era judges heading the Supreme Court, democracy in the Maldives has come full circle. For Mr. Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen, who won the presidency in the 2013 elections, the victory means freedom to put his agenda into action. During his campaign, Mr. Yameen, an economist, had asserted that turning the country around would be his first task. Ever since February 2012, after Mr. Nasheed stepped down in controversial circumstances, the Maldives has slipped from one crisis to another. The economy has hit the lowest level in decades, and many multinationals insist on payment in U.S. dollars for any transaction. Mr. Yameen presides over a mammoth government: the number of Ministers in the Maldives is only marginally less than in Sri Lanka — which has the largest number of Ministers in this region. Public confidence in institutions and government is at an all-time low. Also, though Mr. Yameen made his first foreign visit to India, there is a discernible confidence gap between the two countries. India is critical to sustaining the Maldivian economy and Mr. Yameen is aware of this. In addition to managing relations with India, he needs to carry all sections with him and work to improve governance.