Top
Millennium Post

Democracy wins in Maldives

Democracy wins in Maldives

In an unexpected victory, the opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has won the presidential election held on September 23. And contrary to the widespread impression that the incumbent President, Abdulla Yameen, may not relinquish power even after he is defeated in the election, Yameen appeared on the national TV and conceded defeat. Solih will take charge of the country as the President in November when the term of Yameen comes to an end. With the victory of the opposition candidate as the new President of the Indian Ocean island nation, the regional power equations are in for a change. Former President of Maldives and founder of MDP Mohamed Nasheed who lives in exile in Sri Lanka has hailed the election results and said that the country would review all recent investments in the country. He also said that the nation would revisit its foreign policy and align itself to India First policy. This will be a marked change in the policy that the country under Yameen as President has been following since he came to power in 2012. Beginning this year, the relations between India and Maldives nosedived after the Yameen government imposed a state of emergency in February after the Supreme Court set aside the conviction of nine opposition leaders and ordered for their release from the prison. Angry over the court ruling, the Yameen government ordered the arrest of the chief justice and another judge of the Supreme Court and imposed a 15-day long emergency, which was later extended to 45 days. India had cautioned the Maldives on these developments and had expressed concerns over the erosion of democratic process in the country. India was also peeved at Maldives' changing foreign policy which saw the country getting closer to China. During the five-year rule of President Yameen, China's influence increased manyfold in the tiny but strategically important Indian Ocean nation, accounting for 70 per cent of the total external debt of the country. According to Maldivian opposition leaders, China has acquired some of the 26 atolls in the country. It has also inked a number of infrastructure deals with the country. All this while, the Maldivian government pursued a policy to keep India at bay. The relations between the two countries deteriorated further when the Maldivian government asked India to take back two of the Indian Navy helicopters stationed in the Maldives for medical rescue purposes after the contract for the services ended in June this year. Amid rising discontent between Indian and Maldives, the Maldivian government had stopped renewing work visas of Indian workers engaged in the Maldives. Voicing concerns over these developments, opposition leaders like Nasheed called for India's intervention. But sensing the growing interest of China in the country, India kept quiet despite the unease it caused to Indian interests. Following the policy of string of pearls, China has inked a pact to develop a seaport and road infrastructure for a smooth traffic of Chinese cargo ship. China has developed similar heavy duty seaports in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan as well, encircling India through ports in the Indian Ocean region. While the Chinese infrastructure blitzkrieg in India's immediate neighbourhood has rattled Indian policymakers, India adopted a policy of studied silence and focussed on consolidating its traditional ties with neighbouring countries. India got its first success in checking China's growing influence in Sri Lanka when pro-China Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated in the election in 2015 and Maithripala Sirisena became the President. India's external intelligence wing, RAW, is said to have played a major role in ensuring the defeat of Rajapaksa. The new government in Sri Lanka has put a check on Chinese projects which were driving the island nation into a debt trap faced by many other nations where China is developing multiple cost-intensive infrastructure projects. Now, India is focussed on developing its own infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.

The Maldivian election results have underlined that people in neighbouring countries understand the value of India and its soft power. Though India did not interfere with anti-India actions taken by the Yameen government directly, it sounded out the US and the EU on the disturbing developments in the Maldives, especially how the democratic process was being compromised and how China was ensuring a strategic long-term presence in the Indian Ocean region. The US had issued specific warnings to the Maldives asking it to ensure free and fair elections. For the people of Maldives, it was not difficult to imagine how the Yameen government was taking the country to a dangerous situation where the superpowers of the world may come into conflict on the question of Maldives. And, they voted against Yameen despite various restriction imposed on the opposition candidates and their poll campaign.

Next Story
Share it