Sat. Jun 15th, 2024

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The spat with Canada has garnered most of the government’s foreign policy attention since early last week, but India might be staring at a diplomatic nightmare closer home – in the Maldives – where the opposition candidate backed by pro-China leader Abdulla Yameen has emerged as the favourite to win the presidential runoff on Saturday.
For India, which will closely follow the outcome, an alliance propelled to power on the back of an India Out campaign threatens to unravel efforts in the past 5 years to wean the strategically important country away from China through deepening defence, security, development assistance and economic partnership.
The runoff was necessitated by the fact that no candidate in the September 9 election, including incumbent Ibrahim Solih and challenger Mohamed Muizzu, could get 50 percent plus one vote required to be elected president.
Muizzu, who represents the People’s National Congress (PNC) and Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) alliance, pulled off a major upset by securing more than 46 percent of the votes. Solih, whose oath-taking was attended by PM Narendra Modi in 2018, was a distant runner-up with only 39.05 percent votes. Former president Mohamed Nasheed‘s the Democrats candidate was third with 7.18 percent votes.
Nasheed, who was seen as India’s man in the Indian Ocean country until Solih emerged from under his shadow, quit the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) earlier this year because of his differences with the president and formed his own political party.
That the split could not be prevented may cost India dear as Solih’s face off with Muizzu on September 30 would have kicked off as an even-steven affair, if not for Nasheed’s 7 percent votes. Now, Muizzu needs to poll only 4 percent additional votes to become president while Solih is left with the onerous task of security 11 percent more.
While many have called Nasheed a kingmaker ahead of the runoff, the former president seems more grounded as he’s convinced not much can be done now to secure another term for Solih. Amid efforts to patch up their relationship, Nasheed met Solih recently but, as he himself told TOI on Thursday, he risks losing his credibility by supporting the president.
“There’s not enough time and even with my support President Solih can’t win,” he said. It’s difficult for Nasheed to support Solih, given also the nature of his virulent anti-Solih campaign.
While there has been speculation that he could support Muizzu, mainly because of his antipathy to the president, he told TOI, “I don’t think I can support a PPM candidate as we don’t have an understanding”.
PPM leader and former president Yameen, who turned the country into a hotbed of geopolitical activities by assiduously courting China and through his overt acts of aggression against India, has been sentenced to jail for 11 years because of his involvement in cases of corruption and money laundering. He backed Muizzu, who is also the mayor of Male, after he realised he himself couldn’t contest because of the same.
Yameen remains the chief architect of the India Out campaign that has come to dominate the Opposition’s politics in the country.
While promising to follow an ‘equal’ foreign policy, Muizzu has repeatedly attacked the Maldives government for not doing anything that is not endorsed by India. He has also pledged to maintain Maldives’ independence and protect sovereignty, while asserting that he won’t allow any foreign troops to be stationed in the country.
If Muizzu is indeed elected president, defence and security cooperation might just become the first casualty of a likely recalibration of the Maldives’ foreign policy. Months before the elections in 2018, then president Yameen, while ostensibly following an Indian First policy, had ordered out 2 Indian naval choppers and personnel from the archipelago, bringing into question security cooperation with India. One of the locations from where India was asked to remove its chopper was where China was then reported to be considering building a port.



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