The election result in Maldives have brought uncertainty to its ties with India
Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha (retd)
In the recently concluded presidential election in the South Asian island nation of Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, the opposition candidate, emerged victorious after he secured 54 per cent votes, defeating Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Muizzu is seen as close to former president Abdulla Yameen who followed pro-China policies and is undergoing a prison sentence for money laundering of funds. Yameen was shifted from prison to house arrest due to a request made by Muizzu to Solih who is in the presidential chair till November 17.
There are several reasons for Solih’s loss in the elections. Among the major reasons was the split in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) closer to the election date. Nasheed, the speaker of the house and former President, broke off from MDP and formed his own party named Democrats. He remains a very influential politician in the Maldives and he walked off with 32 members of parliament (MPs) in a house of 87. One of the disagreements between the two leaders was Nasheed’s demand to amend the constitution and convert Maldives from a presidential form of government to a parliamentary system.
Also, there was general discontent amongst people with Solih. He was seen as bending too much towards India. This was coupled with his non-assertive handling of the ‘India Out’ campaign. This slogan was coined by Yameen towards the end of his own presidential term since the People’s Republic of China (PRC) had inflicted severe financial coercion on the Maldives. The loans were hefty, the payment of which would have led to a compromise in the sovereignty of the Maldives. Yameen thought it necessary to move Indian projects out of Maldives to please China and some sections of his domestic audience. India had gifted two advanced light helicopters (ALH) for inter-island medical evacuation. A Dornier was also gifted for EEZ surveillance since piracy was at a peak. Solih had an India-first policy which meant that the air asset was to be operated and maintained by India with a staff strength of 76 Indian Navy, 24 Coast Guard and two Hindustan Aeronautics Limited personnel. Simultaneously, seven Maldivians were to be trained on the job.
In the current election, Yameen could not be a candidate since he was serving an 11-year sentence. His coalition partner is Muizzu—a UK educated engineer who had been in Yameen’s cabinet handling infrastructure development. It was a late action in the election process when Muizzu was declared the combined candidate to oppose Solih. The Progressive Party of Maldives is led by Yameen whereas Muizzu leads the People’s National Congress. Yameen was unsure about Muizzu getting sufficient votes for victory; he therefore used a nationalist call of ‘India Out’ to lure the votes of fence-sitters. Since there already was discontent with Solih’s rule on account of massive corruption, unfulfilled election promises of 2019 and the policy of India first, the ‘India Out’ call attracted voters.
The media also played its role by questioning Muizzu time and again during the campaign regarding his foremost agenda post-victory in the elections. Muizzu had to repeatedly state ‘India Out’ would be his first act. Post-election, he was met by the Indian High Commissioner to convey a congratulatory message from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. When Muizzu asked the High Commissioner regarding the return of Indian troops, he was appraised that these were maintenance personnel and pilots doing remarkable work for medevac and maritime security of the Maldives. In five years, 500 lives have been saved by quick Medevac from far flung islands. Also, there has been no act of piracy due to regular surveillance. Dornier has also assisted in the seizure of narcotics and drugs in large quantities. Muizzu seems to have scaled down his rhetoric and said that the Indian High Commission will work with the Maldivian government towards this poll promise.
There are a number of issues here. The parliament has a majority of MDP (Solih’s party) members, making unilateral decisions difficult. Muizzu has to deal with Yameen too. His frequent interference may become a friction point since the two are from different parties who have come together to field a common opposition against Solih. The next Parliament election is to take place in early April 2024. These results will throw up their own dynamism. Maldives is a nascent democracy, and the people have aspirations and ideas that will drive President Muizzu’s decisions. India-funded projects are moving at high speed and a sudden halt may not be possible. There are also penalty clauses attached to these contracts. Even during Solih’s presidency, the Chinese projects were not stopped. There is however a strong possibility of a slowing down of progress.
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