If you happened to tune in to Barack Obama's acceptance speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado, on August 28, and saw tears running down the faces of his audience, then you would know what it means to electrify an electorate. It's painfully obvious that no candidate in the Maldives Presidential election has come anywhere near that level of voter frenzy. With the election coming up in less than 30 days, the majority of Maldivian voters still appear to be undecided.
And yet, it is this very indecision that raises the possibility of a wave of mass support for a lucky candidate. Let's look at it this way. So far perhaps only about half the voters have firmly decided on a candidate. This means that about 100,000 remaining voters will be making up their mind within the next 3 weeks or so. The chances are that this number will be unequally divided among the 7 or 8 candidates in the fray. If any of the candidates manages somehow to attract the lion's share of these 100,000 voters, he could trigger a wave.
So far there have been few signs of any candidate triggering even a ripple, let alone a wave. The nearest to that was when Gasim Ibrahim joined Jumhooree Party about a month back, along with many high ranking politicians. Within days the party laid claims to being the second largest group in the Majlis. This claim was backed up by a surprising victory for their candidate Mohammed Shihab in the election to the post of Speaker of the Majlis. At that point Jumhooree Party appeared to be on the verge of a tsunami. But then the momentum has slowed down, and some say even reversed. The party suffered two major setbacks in a row last week. One, in the formation of the Election Commission and the other in the resignation of Zubair, the Majlis Member for North Ari Atoll.
Hassan Saeed got an image boost following his performance in the presidential debate and his victories in two opinion polls (though the results of both are disputed.) But so far this boost has not triggered any wave. Further, he may find it difficult to keep up with the increasing pace of the campaign, as he lacks a party to back him.
According to most pundits Anni is slowly gaining in popularity and with MDP well organized and capable of scaling up the campaign across the country, he appears to be positioned to mobilize a landslide. He however is hampered by an image trap, which he must offset by selecting a running mate with the right type of image.
What happens if no candidate manages to take and overwhelming lead? According to most pundits such a situation could favor Gayoom, who could then coast to victory in the first round with a wafer thin majority. Others say that the election would go into a second round, raising the possibility of artificially forced realignments among the candidates and their supporters.
With barely a month left for the election, time is running out for the candidates to trigger the elusive wave. Will any of them succeed?