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Cablegate: Maldives Set to Vote October 8 in First Round Of

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DE RUEHLM #0917/01 2770943
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 030943Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8731
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 1084
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD 8085
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU 6283
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RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 3617
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI 8710
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI 6126
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2961

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 COLOMBO 000917

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PHUM KDEM MV
SUBJECT: MALDIVES SET TO VOTE OCTOBER 8 IN FIRST ROUND OF
PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

REF: A. COLOMBO 880
B. COLOMBO 854

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: On September 22, the Elections Commission
declared six candidates eligible to stand in Maldives'
first-ever multi-party Presidential election. Five opponents
are challenging President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of the ruling
DRP: the Maldives Democratic Party's Mohamed Nasheed
("Anni"); Maldives' richest man, Gasim Ibrahim of the
newly-created Republican Party; the Social Liberal Party
(SLP) candidate Ibrahim Ismail ("Ibra"); an independent
candidate, former Attorney General Hassan Saeed and Islamic
Democratic Party (IDP) leader Umar Naseer. The Supreme Court
rejected two challenges to President Gayoom's candidacy on
October 2, as well as a challenge to Nasheed's right to
contest. With that, the way is clear for all six to compete
in the first round of voting scheduled for October 8. If no
candidate secures over 50%, a runoff between the top two
finishers will take place about ten days later.
Representatives of the main parties say that fears of a
looming "constitutional void" if voting is not completed by
the deadline of October 10 are overstated. In the absence of
published polls, it is difficult to assess the state of the
race. MDP representatives are increasingly confident of
their chances of unseating Gayoom. Gayoom is relying on his
30-year incumbency, especially his network of island and
atoll chiefs, to deliver victory. Politicians generally seem
bullish about Maldives' prospects for holding its first
democratic, multi-candidate Presidential election. The
public is highly motivated; however, only 25% of voters say
they expect polling to be free and fair. End summary.

Opposition Walks Out as Supreme Court Sworn In
--------------------------------------------- -

2. (U) On September 18, opposition members walked out of the
Majlis in protest as the President's DRP pushed through its
five nominations to the Supreme Court. The judges will form
an interim Supreme Court until a permanent court can be
established following parliamentary elections next year. The
opposition complained that they had inadequate time to
scrutinize the nominees. Information Minister Nasheed
expressed disappointment that none of the judges had a
background in common law. Social Liberal Party Presidential
Candidate Ibrahim Ismail ("Ibra") echoed this concern,
complaining that only one of the judges has an education in a
field other than Shari'a law. MDP sources claim that
President Gayoom's strong-arm tactics in filling the bench
were primarily aimed at ensuring that his candidacy would be
allowed to go forward.

Court Rejects Challenge to Gayoom
---------------------------------

3. (SBU) On October 2, the Supreme Court ruled against a
legal challenge to Gayoom's candidacy filed by Social Liberal
Party candidate Ibra. Ibra had contended that Gayoom could
not be eligible to run again after serving six terms. (The
new Constitution sets a two-term limit, but the Court agreed
with the argument that Gayoom's terms under the old
Constitution did not count.) The Court also dismissed a
complaint against Gayoom by the moderate Islamist party
Adhaalath, which claimed that Gayoom is not a Sunni Muslim (a
constitutional requirement for holding office) because of his
supposed heretical views. Finally, the Supreme Court
sustained the Criminal Court's and Election Commission's
earlier findings that Anni's 2001 conviction for theft (on
what are generally considered trumped-up charges) did not
constitute a crime under Shari'a law. A contrary finding
would have rendered Anni ineligible.

Who Knows Who's on First?
-------------------------

COLOMBO 00000917 002 OF 004

4. (SBU) In the absence of published polling data, it is
difficult to hard to determine where Gayoom stands in
relation to his opponents. MDP representatives say they are
increasingly confident, while President Gayoom is relying on
the power of his 30-year incumbency. We expect no candidate
will receive 50% of the vote, forcing a second round runoff
between the top two finishers. Of the rest of the field,
only independent Hassan Saeed (the former Attorney General)
and Qasim Ibrahim (former Finance Minister and reputedly
Maldives' wealthiest man) have a realistic chance to get
through to the second round. The MDP believes that much of
the anti-Gayoom vote will consolidate behind Anni if he and
the incumbent make the runoff. However, the MDP says their
private polling data shows Anni in first place, followed by
former Attorney General Hassan Saeed - not Gayoom. In a sign
of the opposition's increasing confidence of unseating
Gayoom, Anni and Saeed are starting to concentrate more of
their fire on each other. Gayoom is banking on his network
of island and atoll chiefs, who all owe their appointments to
him, to bring in enough votes. (In fact, he shuffled some
atoll chiefs, and brought in six new ones, on September 30 -
barely a week before the vote.) In the more remote islands,
Gayoom's appointees may be able to exert enough pressure to
sway some votes. The Republican Party is relying on Qasim's
name recognition, large employee base, and personal fortune
to propel him into a second round. Rumors are rampant,
however, that the wealthiest candidate, Qasim, is spending
money freely in an attempt to buy votes. The other
candidates are rather gleefully reminding voters that their
ballots are secret.

(SBU) THE CANDIDATES AND THEIR RUNNING MATES
--------------------------------------------

5. Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (DRP) leader Maumoon Abdul
Gayoom, 71, has served six terms as President. He now faces
his first multi-candidate election. Educated at Royal
College, Colombo, he has a Bachelor's in Islamic Shari'a and
Civil Law from Al-Azhar University, Egypt, and a Master's in
Shari'a from the same institution.

Gayoom's running mate Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, born in 1967, is
the current Minister for Atolls Development. Previously, as
Home Affairs Minister, he introduced important reform
measures to Maldives' relatively new police service. He
holds a BA in Economics from the University of Warwick, UK
and a Master's in Political Science from American University,
Cairo.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader Mohamed Nasheed
(Anni) is a former member of Parliament and long-time critic
of Gayoom's regime. He has been sentenced to prison several
times. In 1991, Amnesty International named him a Prisoner
of Conscience. Nasheed left Maldives in 2003 to found the
MDP, along with Mohamed Latheef, in exile in Sri Lanka and
the UK. The British government granted him political asylum
in 2004. Nasheed returned to Male in April 2005.

Anni's running mate, Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik is the
leader of the newly-formed National Alliance Party. Waheed
was one of the earliest to oppose Gayoom's government. The
first Maldivian to receive a PhD (from Stanford), Waheed has
spent years outside the country during his career with
UNICEF. He has had an uneven relationship with the MDP,
heavily involved in the party in 2005, but resigning in 2007
after describing the party as "militant."

Independent candidate Hassan Saeed of the "New Maldives"
movement was educated in Malaysia and received his PhD from
the University of Queensland, Australia. Saeed had served as
the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court before becoming
Attorney General under Gayoom. Saeed broke with Gayoom in

COLOMBO 00000917 003 OF 004


2007 and left the government along with other reform-minded
DRP ministers.

Saeed's running mate and "New Maldives" partner, former
Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed, studied at the University of
Aberystwyth, UK and obtained a PhD in International Relations
from the University of Queensland. When Shaheed resigned as
Foreign Minister, he said "a conservative old guard within
the parliament and cabinet" were resisting reform.

The candidate of the Republican (Jumhooree) party, Qasim
Ibrahim, is a billionaire businessman and former Finance
Minister under Gayoom, resigning in July 2008 to run for
President. Qasim began his career as a government hospital
clerk. His Villa companies are active in many sectors,
including tourism resorts and shipping. Qasim has served in
a number of other important posts in government and industry,
including as President of the SAARC Chamber of Commerce and
Industry. Qasim also has the backing of the islamist
Adhaalath (Justice) Party, which decided not to run its own
candidate.

Qasim's running mate Ahmed Ali Sawad, 35, a relative unknown
(the campaign calls him "untainted"), had spent 14 years
outside Maldives. He studied at the University of Bangalore
law school and worked as a journalist for the Times of India.
He is currently pursuing a PhD in human rights law from the
University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

Social Liberal Party (SLP) leader Ibrahim Ismail (Ibra), one
of the principal architects of the new Constitution, has used
his candidacy to highlight procedural and constitutional
question issues and ways in which Maldives is falling short
of democratic standards. Ibra completed his secondary
education at Majeediyya school and the Science Education
Center in Male and obtained a Bachelor's and Master's (in
Education Administration) from the University of Canberra.

Ibra's running mate Fathimath Nahid Shakir, the only woman on
the ballot, has a Master's in education from the University
of Reading, UK, and twenty years' experience in the education
sector.

Islamic Democratic Party candidate Umar Naseer, a former
policeman and member of the Majlis, studied at the University
of Colombo and maintains ties to Sri Lanka. Naseer runs as a
law-and-order hardliner and has called for rigid enforcement
of penalties prescribed by Shari'a law, including the death
penalty for drug traffickers and murderers. Some question
his credentials as an Islamist, considering him an
opportunist.

Naseer's running mate Ahmed Rizwee, another newcomer to
politics, is a former member of the National Defense Force.
According to Naseer, he has held managerial positions in
several companies.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: It is clear that a second round, if
necessary, will fall after the constitutional deadline of
October 10 for voting to be complete. However, no party,
save the SLP, has raised serious objections to the potential
for a brief period of "constitutional void". While it is
legally messy, most observers have concluded that there is no
reason the Election Commission and Supreme Court could not
administer and adjudicate a second round outside the
constitutionally minimal timeframe. We have seen no
indication that this would cause widespread public protest or
otherwise call into question the conduct of the election --
as long as it is perceived to be free and fair. Given the
importance of this election for Maldives' future democratic
development, Embassy is deploying three officers, as part of
a larger EU-led mission, to assist with election observation.
We plan to do the same for the second round, if, as we

COLOMBO 00000917 004 OF 004


expect, a runoff is necessary.
BLAKE

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