The presidential and Majlis elections are held on a nonpartisan basis because there are no organized political parties in the country. Candidates run as independents on the basis of personal qualifications.
Although in 1994 Maldives had no organized political competition in the Western sense, partisan conflict occurred behind the scenes. Battles were intensely fought on the basis of factional or personal alliances among elite circles. For more than twenty years, until late 1978, the dominant faction had been led by former President Nasir, who ran the government with a firm hand and who seldom appeared in public. His sudden departure from Maldives, subsequently revealed as connected with malfeasance, ended a political era.
Transition was smooth under the new leadership group presided over by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a former cabinet member and diplomat who took office on November 11, 1978, after a peaceful election. The new president pledged to administer the country in a fair and more open manner by restoring civil rights, by establishing rapport at the grass-roots level, and by remedying the long neglect of popular welfare in the outer islands. However, criticism of alleged nepotism and corruption has continued through the 1980s and early 1990s.
Gayoom's presidential cabinet, including his relatives in key positions, is considered a "kitchen cabinet" of traditional power holders that exert a strong influence against democratic reforms on a weak but relatively popular president. Events in the spring of 1990 tended to confirm that Gayoom's announced support for democratic reform was not being honored throughout the governmental power structure. In April, three pro-reform members of the Majlis received anonymous death threats. A few months later, all publications not sanctioned by the government were banned, and some leading writers and publishers were arrested. These actions followed the emergence of several politically outspoken magazines, including Sangu (Conch Shell). The circulation of this magazine increased from 500 in February 1990 to 3,000 in April.
Gayoom reshuffled the cabinet in May 1990, dismissing his brother-in-law, Ilyas Ibrahim, as minister of state for defense and national security. Ibrahim had left the country suddenly, apparently before being called to account for embezzlement and misappropriation of funds. Gayoom placed him under house arrest when he returned in August 1990. He was cleared by an investigatory commission in March 1991 and appointed minister of atolls' administration. In April 1991, President Gayoom established a board to investigate charges of malfeasance against government officials. As a result of Gayoom's increasing assertion of his power in the early 1990s, by 1992 he had assumed the duties of both minister of defense and minister of finance, posts which he still held in August 1994 as well as that of governor of the Maldives Monetary Authority. Gayoom was reelected to a fourth five-year term as president in national elections in 1993. His principal rival, Ilyas Ibrahim, was sentenced to fifteen years' banishment after being found guilty of "treason" because of his attempts to win the presidency.
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