The results of the first phase of Presidential Election 2008 would have surprised those who thought with their hearts, but perhaps not those who thought with their brains. The most striking result of the election is that Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is still the most popular leader in the Maldives. But this is something that should have been obvious to anyone who analyzed things rationally.
Gayoom is easily the most marketed product in the Maldives with brand recognition almost universal among all age groups from toddlers to oldsters. In each of the 200 odd inhabited islands he has a group of loyal supporters among the island administration and women's development committees who would campaign for him. Even if they manage to recruit 100 voters in each island, the total would up to 20,000 votes. Considering all this, the result is not surprising at all.
The purpose of this article however is not to explain the results, but to analyze what they mean and see if there are any lessons for the second phase. Already the main political parties are staking their claims and counter claims about the results. Let us take some of these claims and see to what extent they are justified.
Is Gayoom the most popular politician?
- This claim of DRP is justified considering the 40.6% votes he polled against 25.1% by his nearest rival.
- Part of the reasons for his success is discussed above. The other reason was perhaps other candidates devoted more time on negative campaigning against Gayoom rather than promoting themselves positively. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for Anni in the second round campaign.
Are 60% of Maldivians opposed to Gayoom?
- This is not necessarily true. In this poll citizens primarily voted positively for who they thought was best. To take the converse and say all those who did not vote for Gayoom were opposed to him is to stretch the imagination a bit too much.
- To illustrate how dangerous it is to interpolate poll results to other situations, let me present a historic example. At the end of 20th Century, sports journalists and experts voted to decide the all time greatest sports personality. In this poll boxer Muhammad Ali won after beating the likes of Pele, Maradonna and Don Bradman (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/sport/561352.stm). So when it came to the next poll to decide who the boxing all time personality was, one would have thought Muhammad Ali would win easily. But he was beaten to that spot by another boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson (http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/606/A17665914). This left a very funny situation: Ali was the greatest among ALL sportsmen, but in his own sport boxing he was only second best.
If the opposition fielded a unified candidate, would he have won?
- This claim is based on the total of about 60% polled by all opposition candidates. The claim may not necessarily be true. Supposing Anni was the unified candidate, many of Hassan Saeed's Addu supporters may not have voted for Anni. The same could also be true for Adhaalat party supporters who voted for Qasim.
- So, Hassan Saeed and Qasim were crucial in chipping away at Gayoom's share of votes. Without that Gayoom could perhaps have gone through in the first round itself. Ironically opposition disunity may have saved the day for them.
Will all the 40% who voted for Gayoom in the first round also vote for him the second round?
- This is not necessarily true. The results of the first phase have changed the situation quite radically. For example, for many of the 40% who voted for Gayoom, he was perhaps a towering and impregnable figure, an image that could have played a part in their decision to vote. The first phase results have dismantled that image and now he looks more vulnerable. This could affect the voters negatively.
- Some of the 40% may have preferred Gayoom because the opposition was bitterly divided in the first round and were quarrelling among themselves. This has changed now and so some voters may re-think their original decision.
Is Ibra finished as a politician?
- This is not necessarily true. The number of votes he polled is probably not a true indication of his popularity. In this election many voters probably avoided voting for him believing he did not have a winning chance. In a hypothetical one to one context with Hassan Saeed or Qasim, Ibra could spring a surprise.
How did Umar outperform a high profile politician like Ibra?
- The reason could be his unique agenda for implementing Sharia law for drug smugglers and other criminals.