Democracy at work in Maldives - GulfToday

Democracy at work in Maldives

Mohamed Muizzu speaks during a press conference in Male. AFP

Mohamed Muizzu speaks during a press conference in Male. AFP

In the Maldivian presidential election, Mohamed Muizzu of the Progressive Party of Maldives has won when he polled 54.06 per cent in the runoff after he won 46 per cent in the first round. Incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih congratulated Muizzu and thanked the people “for the beautiful democratic example”. In the peculiar politics of this strategically located Indian Ocean island-nation, the presidential candidates are judged by their foreign policy orientation. Muizzi is seen as being pro-China while Solih was pro-Indian.

The politics of Maldives is of course more complicated and it is the situation in the country that determines the electoral outcomes. Mohamed Shareef, a senior office-bearer of Muizzu’s party, tried to clear the air partially of the China-India factor in the elections. He said, “Today’s result is the reflection of the patriotism of our people. A call on our neighbours and bilateral partners to fully respect our independence and sovereignty.” And he clarified further saying, “I don’t think India was at all in the people’s minds.”

Though it is an attempt to say that the Progressive Party of Maldives is not leaning towards China, it is known that the last time the party was in power, Maldives became part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and a huge Chinese injection of funds helped in the construction of roads and ports. And Muizzu has told Chinese Communist Party officials last year that Maldives-China relations would be further strengthened if he returns to power. It is not a secret that India has strategic stakes in Maldives and it has sent forces when asked to stave off rebellion in the late 1980s when Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

In the undeclared competition between India and China for influence in Asian countries, India has stepped up aid and it has also undertaken the building of a dockyard through the Indian military in Maldives for security reasons, and Sohil had said that it would not violate the sovereignty of the country.

Muizzu would want India to take away the stationed troops present in Maldives for the construction of the dockyard. General opinion among the experts is that Muizzu would not refuse or dismantle Indian economic aid to the country, and he would not also show his China bias because he would want Maldives to be engaged with the two Asian powers.

The opinion is that Sohil lost the election because he could not deliver on the economic agenda, and it is also due to the fact that he was politically weakened when Mohamed Nasheed, former president, broke away from Sohil’s party, and fielded a candidate in the first round of the presidential contest. He remained neutral in the runoff. The other major change would be that former Maldivian president Abdulla Yameen, who has been sentenced to 11 years in prison, will get a relief from Muizzu. It was Yameen who took Maldives into China’s BRI.

What is heartening about the Maldivian presidential election is that people made their choice, and there was no outside pressure. Maldivians were responding to the situation at home, and they have also indicated their judgment on the foreign policy of the country. As long as fair elections are held and the people express their preference through the ballot, even a small country like Maldives can hold its own. There are indeed lot of pressures due to balance-of-power politics on the global stage, but a country with a democratic will of its own as expressed in the Maldivian presidential election can survive with pride and honour. The global balance of power is unequal, but a democracy can counter it.

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