Good for Maldives, relief for India

President Abdulla Yameen’s defeat in the Maldivian presidential election is a decisive vote in favour of a return to democracy. Since he became president in 2013, Yameen had acted systematically to erode Maldives’ nascent democracy. In addition to arresting and jailing his political opponents, some of whom were forced to go into exile abroad, Yameen packed the judiciary with pliant judges and silenced the media. So determined was he to eliminate all challenge to his authoritarian rule that even his half-brother, the 81-year-old former president Maumoon Gayoom, was thrown into jail. Yameen tried every trick in the book to ensure that the election would return him to power for a second term. Therefore, few had expected him to lose. The verdict has therefore come as a surprise as Yameen lost the election by a huge margin. While the joint opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, won 58% of the vote, Yameen secured 41.7% of the vote in an election that saw a high (89%) voter turnout.

Yameen’s ouster removes a major obstacle in the way of restoration of democracy in the Maldives. However, it is too early to celebrate. Although Yameen has accepted the election verdict, whether he will hand over power to Solih in November remains to be seen. Importantly, as former president Mohammad Nasheed found out in 2008, when he became democratic Maldives’ first president, winning an election is the easy part. More challenging is having to deal with a judiciary and police force that are stacked with loyalists of the outgoing regime. Solih is likely to face similar problems.

It is heartening that Yameen’s ouster was brought about by the Maldivian people via the ballot box, rather than through violence or outside intervention. The election results vindicate India’s cautious approach; it did well to ignore calls for a military intervention in the Indian Ocean archipelago. Yameen’s stridently anti-India economic, military and security policies saw the Maldives’ relations with China strengthen to an unprecedented level, at the cost of India. His defeat could pave the way for Male and Delhi to return to the cordial ties of the past. However, as part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Maldives is heavily indebted to China. As was the case with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, too, could find it difficult to free itself from China’s iron grip. The Maldives is strategically located near sea lanes through which much of India’s oil and other sea trade is conducted. Delhi must put in place a well-thought out strategy to draw Maldives out of China’s sphere of influence. It will require India and Indian companies to invest generously in the Maldives’ infrastructure development to begin with.

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Good for Maldives, relief for India

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