When Maumoon Abdul Gayoom returned to the Maldives in 1971 after a 24-year absence abroad, he found in Male an "atmosphere of repression", his biography 'A Man for All Islands' says. He would not have known then that 37 years later on 7 August 2008 he would be the chosen man to ratify the historic Constitutional amendments that would finally annul the archaic laws that bred the repressive atmosphere.
With his grounding in theology, Gayoom soon earned the respect of the people as well as the wrath of the government, particularly with his famous remark equating alcohol consumption and its sale. When in 1978, President Ibrahim Nasir abruptly decided not to compete for a third term in office, Gayoom became a serious contender for the post. Helped by a serendipitous coincidence –two of his close relatives, Ilyas and Hameed, were Majlis Members –Gayoom triumphed.
Seeking a record (which will never be broken) seventh term, Gayoom brings with him long years of experience, years that started counting long before 2 out of 3 Maldivians living today were even born. Let us then examine his strengths and weaknesses.
Gayoom's Achievements so far:
- Became President in 1978 and got re-elected 5 times;
- Maintained political stability and a favorable investment climate in the Maldives;
- Earned an international reputation in the area of environmental protection;
- Earned a reputation as a religious scholar.
- Having been in power for 30 years;
- Having the opportunity to claim credit for the GDP growth of the past 3 decades;
- Being the most recognized face in the Maldives;
- Fits the mental image Maldivians have of an archetypical president;
- Being the subject of nostalgic attachment among the elderly;
- Having the advantage of the trappings of office and the loyalty of senior members in island administration;
- Having been in power for 30 years (note that this is also listed among strengths);
- Being ultimately answerable for the law and order situation and drugs as well as the housing problem;
- Desire among the youth for change;
- Advancing age;
- Vulnerability to charges of nepotism.
Highlights of the agenda:
- Not allow in the Maldives any religion other than Islam, nor will he allow extremism;
- Strengthen the foundations of democracy, promote political responsibility, protect human rights, and ensure equality before the law;
- Distribute the benefits of economic growth equitably, increase the earnings of individuals and families, improve the quality of life, reduce the cost of living and ensure fiscal responsibility;
- Make the community drug-free and safe, solve housing issues, expand social services, and make Maldivians a law abiding, low crime, supportive, friendly, and happy community;
- Expand health services, improve the quality of health services, provide emergency evacuation, train health professionals and introduce modern technology for providing health care;
- Expand educational opportunities, improve quality of education, increase training opportunities for the youth, train teachers, and get international recognition for the national university.