Voters of the Maldives have expressed their confidence in the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) again and so their candidate Ibrahim Mohammad Solih won Presidential elections easily. It is a victory of democracy against the government led by President Abdullah Yameen. The Maldives is the smallest country in South Asia with more than 1,000 islands. The beauty of the islands attracts tourists from all over. Maldives economy is largely dependent on tourism and fishing.
Former President Mohammad Nasheed was ousted in a coup in 2012 and he was arrested under flimsy charges. In 2015, he was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment on terrorism charges. In 2016, Nasheed was allowed to go to the United Kingdom for the medical treatment as he was seriously ill and the UK also gave him political asylum. Nasheed is the tallest leader of the MDP. In May, the party held its primary and he was the only Presidential candidate but, because of his conviction, he cannot contest elections for 16 years. Human Rights groups had criticised the trial as it was not fair. Nasheed was the first democratically elected President of the Maldives. He had defeated Abdul Gayoom in 2008, who had ruled the Maldives for more than 30 years. In February 2012 Nasheed was compelled to resign at ‘gunpoint’.
The victory of MDP’s candidate is good news for India. India always had excellent equations with the MDP leadership. Nasheed and Solih are childhood friends and they are also founders of the party. The MDP is for the genuine democracy in the archipelago of 1,192 islands. This time all main opposition parties including former President Gayoom’s joined hands and fought elections together. India’s Ministry of External Affairs said, “It is not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of the democracy and rule of law.”
During Yameen’s regime, China invested massively in various projects in strategically important Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The Chinese influence in the Maldives was so visible that recently India boycotted inauguration of China funded bridge linking capital Male with the airport island. Yameen described the $200 million bridge as ‘the biggest achievement in our diplomatic history.”
China’s foreign ministry responded to Nasheed’s reported statement that the Chinese projects in the Maldives lacked commercial viability besides transparency and democratic procedures. China congratulated Solih and said that China respects the Maldivian people’s choice.
Of late, Indians working in the tourism industry in the Maldives were facing serious issues like work permits, the extension of visa etc. Many of them were forced to leave the Maldives. Now, with the change in the government, it is believed that the issues concerning Indians working in the Maldives will be resolved soon. The controversy surrounding the issue of two Indian military helicopters stationed in strategically important Lhamu and Addu will also be resolved soon. Yameen had asked India to take them back.
China’s interest is the presence of their navy in the important Indian Ocean. They are also developing Pakistan’s Gwadar port.
China’s state-run Global Times wrote, “Neither did Solih nor the opposition make any remarks hostile to China during the campaign. China and Maldives have enjoyed sound ties
.” Nasheed has said that Solih’s victory will restore his country’s ties with India. Solih’s victory can be seen as a big relief for India as the relationship between the two countries had come under a lot of strain during Yameen regime. Indian PM Modi congratulated Solih for his victory. India needs to stand with the democratic aspirations of the Maldivian people. The voters have shown their maturity and expressed their faith in the democracy.