The conventional wisdom till August this year was if one had enough 500 rufiyaa notes to distribute on Election Day, one was assured of victory. This doctrine however came for a severe hammering almost overnight with the lukewarm response Qasim Ibrahim received for his presidential bid. All of a sudden one started hearing comments such as, 'Qasim is a good businessman and philanthropist, but not the type of person we want as president." Does this herald a paradigm shift from the plutocratic politics of the past decade to party based politics?
According to conventional wisdom, businessmen could dominate politics because Maldivians can be bought for a few rufiyaas. This however may not be the case. The real explanation could be that in the days prior to the formation of political parties, only government officials and businessmen had the resources to conduct campaigns in the atolls. Before 1999, only civil servants with government blessing were allowed to campaign and so they won nearly all Majlis seats. After that, particularly during the last Majlis elections, officially everyone was allowed to campaign, but practically only rich businessmen could make use of the opportunity. That's how we saw the entry of the likes of Jaufar, Waheed, Shaheed Zaki, Thasmeen, Nazim, Hamza, Nashid, Shyam, Jabir and Zahir into the Majlis.
Even during the 2005 election, it could have been the ability to campaign and take the message to the electorate that made all the difference, rather than the actual money that passed hands. Now with the entry of political parties, there is an alternative method of financing election campaigns, other than spending one's personal wealth. Going by the experience of countries like the US, parties appear to be the more sustainable and effective method out of the two. The utter failure of billionaire Ross Perot in election after election is a good case study.
Thus in the future we could perhaps expect a reduction in the number of business tycoons getting elected to the Majlis. This of course is merely a theory and needs verification in light of the results of March 2009 General Election.
[Disclaimer: This article does not purport to prove that businessmen will have no influence on Maldivian politics in the future. After all, political parties are also funded by businessmen. What the article theorizes is a shift in their role from direct financing to party financing. ]