"If I were to ask for anyone's help other than Allah's, I swear I'd ask for yours," Gasim Ibrahim wrote to Gayoom from his Dhoonidhoo cell, while imprisoned there following the August 12-13 incident of 2004.
"The Maldivian people know who fights for their rights and who doesn't," Gasim Ibrahim thundered to his supporters during his party's congress on 22 August 2008.
Was it the same Gasim who made these two statements, and if not which is the real Gasim? Fortune does not change men; it unmasks them. But sometimes people carry to such perfection the mask they have assumed that in due course they actually become the person they seem. So, has Gasim become the mask he wore?
Gasim's privately owned Villa Foundation awards about 150 scholarships to young Maldivians to pursue higher studies each year. Scholars are selected to the scheme on purely objective criteria, with no influence whosoever exercised by the Chairman. More than a 1000 students have benefited from this scheme so far. Gasim's welfare scheme has funded medical treatment abroad for 1000s of poor Maldivians. Most of them have never met Gasim. Was this a truly 'free lunch"?
These two philanthropic schemes rival, or perhaps even exceed, the corresponding Government schemes. Thus Gasim stands out as the philanthropist par excellence. Is this the real Gasim?
With his sponsorship of the 2001 petition signed by 40 intellectuals, Gasim is widely credited for the birth of the party system in the Maldives. He is rumored to be funding most opposition parties in the Maldives including MDP, IDP and Adaalath. On the other hand, he is also rumored to have funded the defection of prominent opposition MPs to DRP. Which of these roles, if any, did the real Gasim play? It's said that for some people there is more to life than just having everything. Is this true for Gasim?
Gasim is also widely credited to have led the constitutional amendment process to a successful conclusion. However, it is also alleged that the finally passed draft had many inconsistencies that Gasim could not prevent. In the process of removing these inconsistencies, it is also alleged he colluded with Ibra and AG Azima to introduce into the draft phrases and clauses never passed by the Majlis. What is the truth here?
As finance minister from mid 2005 to mid 2008, Gasim presided over the biggest budget fiasco in the history of Maldives, which diverted the country's fiscal course irreversibly towards bankruptcy. Did the budget fail because the trade minister and others failed to materialize the mega projects on which the budget depended, as Gasim alleges? Or did it fail because Gasim set rashly impractical targets and gambled with the country's economy?
Gasim's Villa Group currently owns about 15 % of all tourist beds in the country. The figure could even double when resorts currently under development are opened. With massive investments at Keekimini and Maandhoo, Gasim has a controlling interest in the fisheries industry. He also has similar controlling interests in the petroleum and LPG distribution industries. With investments in nearly all types of enterprises in the Maldives, Gasim is the capitalist par excellence. Is this the real face of Gasim?
In Senate confirmation hearings for constitutional posts in the United States, candidates are asked questions designed to bring out their attitudes and ideologies. The underlying belief is that people continue to hold and practice their old beliefs and ideologies in their new jobs, like the proverbial leopard, which does not change its spots. From Gasim's past actions can we predict what sort of president he would become?
Will he be a business friendly capitalist, or a pro-poor socialist with enough courage to introduce heavy taxation to fund social services? In other words, can he run with the hares while hunting with the hounds? Will he become the Lee Kuan Yu of Maldives running a clean administration or will he become the King Fahd of Maldives running a regime of favoritism? Will he become the selfless Mandela of Maldives or the monopolist Stanley Ho (the business tycoon who practically owns Macao) of Maldives? There are telltale clues in Gasim's track record to answer these questions with reasonable accuracy.
For 30 years Maldivians depended on the noblesse of a holy man to build their security. History tells us the outcome. For the next 10 years can they depend on the magnanimity of a philanthropist to build their security? Maldivians can choose their leader; destiny will choose the consequences.
["Destiny is a name often given in retrospect to choices that had dramatic consequences," – J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone ]