New Delhi: India has reasons to cheer with Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s party appearing to have secured a landslide victory in the parliamentary elections held Saturday.
The election results are yet to be announced officially. The Elections Commission of Maldives said on Monday the results will be announced on 12 April while the swearing-in ceremony will take place on 28 May.
“I haven’t forgotten the hard work by our coalition partners to bring the country back from the brink of President Yameen’s disastrous rule. I will continue to work with the leaders of all our coalition partners to ensure we deliver on our pledges to the people,” Solih, who came to power in September last year, said Sunday as initial results started coming in.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Monday called Solih and congratulated him on his victory, said an official statement from the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Modi said Maldives will be a priority in India’s ‘neighbourhood-first’ policy, the statement added.
The election results come as a relief to India, which had been closely watching the developments in the island nation, as it marks Maldives’ return to ‘India first’ policy while arresting its tilt towards China, official sources told ThePrint.
Yameen’s ‘dictatorial’ rule
Maldives has traditionally been an ally of India and its strategic advantage has remained one of New Delhi’s crucial foreign policy priorities. However, under the rule of previous president Abdulla Yameen, who was perceived as pro-China, Maldives began to rapidly drift away from New Delhi towards Beijing.
Presidential elections held in September last year overthrew Yameen and brought in Solih. The parliamentary elections were necessitated as several allies of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had sided with the opposition.
Yameen, who was jailed on charges of corruption and embezzlement, was released days before the parliamentary elections.
With China’s support, Yameen was accused of ruling Maldives in an autocratic manner. He had jailed his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed on charges of terrorism. He had also put behind bars many of his political rivals and removed dissenting voices from institutions such as the Supreme Court, besides denying the voters their basic rights. In fact, speculation was also rife that China might build a military base in Maldives.
All these had forced India to contemplate military intervention in Maldives as it seemed the island nation may declare an emergency.
‘Maldives will have to balance it out with China’
Official sources said while India will remain important for Maldives, the island nation cannot look away from China.
China had invested heavily in infrastructure projects in Maldives such as China-Maldives Friendship Bridge and mass housing projects on reclaimed lands, which many say, have put the island nation into a debt trap. Under Yameen’s government, India had lost to China a $511-million project to develop and expand the Male airport.
Last month, during the visit of India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to Maldives, both sides had agreed to maintain peace and security in the Indian Ocean region while enhancing regional maritime security. Maldives had also stated it would “remain sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns” while promising to kick-start some of the Indian projects that got stalled under Yameen’s regime.
Last year during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Maldives, India had offered a grant of $1.4 billion to Maldives in the form of budgetary support, currency swap and concessional lines of credit to repay its debt to China that was incurred during Yameen’s era.
“While the outcome of parliamentary elections has come in line with the September’s presidential elections, there are two things that need to be kept in mind. Firstly, India should not overestimate Maldives’ tilt towards New Delhi. They will have to balance it out with China,” said former ambassador Rajiv Bhatia.
Bhatia, who is now a Distinguished Fellow of Mumbai-based foreign policy think tank Gateway House, also said Maldives would continue to remain a priority for India in the Indian Ocean region irrespective of which political party comes to power after the Lok Sabha elections.