Maldivian miracle?

by September 28, 2018 0 comments

News DelhiNot quite. New Delhi needs to ensure a smooth transfer of presidential power over the next couple of months

State-sponsored think-tanks in Beijing not to mention the Chinese Government were in a huddle earlier this week as it became apparent that their man, President Abdulla Yameen, may not win the presidential elections in the tiny but strategically important Indian Ocean nation of the Maldives despite the structural rigging apparatus in place. Yameen has imposed an Emergency in the island nation earlier this year, Opposition leaders were jailed, the pro-India Mohammed Nasheed, in exile, was barred from running for president after a compliant judiciary had found him guilty on terrorism charges, the offices of the main Opposition force which he led, the Maldivian Democratic Party, were raided the night before voting took place on 23 September and Government-controlled media managed to ensure that a lopsided narrative in favour of Yameen and the forces he represents was dominant. It was akin to a small miracle, perchance of democracy, that against this backdrop the combined Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the MDP registered a decisive win with 58.34 per cent of the vote to the incumbent’s 41.66 per cent. Turnout too was high with over 90 per cent of registered voters having exercised their franchise. There were a few nervous hours after the results as everybody waited for the Maldivian election commission to ratify the results and Yameen did not immediately concede defeat but the word is that in the end the current president understood he that was so far behind in the vote count that there was no option but to put on a brave face and accept his crushing loss. The international community would not have stood for a usurpation of the people’s mandate and China too understood this.

A covert Indian role in aiding the Opposition to mobilise support is already being talked of by forces inimical to our interests in the region to which the only comment worth making is: If true, well done. India has proven its friendship with the Maldivian people in their quest for a democratic and inclusive national life and as a regional power has always been sensitive to Maldivian sensitivities and concerns. At any rate, you can be sure that the Chinese tried every trick in the book to keep Yameen in power, and shouldn’t they? After all, not only did the president force through a highly controversial Free Trade Agreement with China and favoured Beijing-backed companies for executing infrastructure development projects such as an extension of the Male international airport and a bridge linking it to the Capital, he has also been consistently delivering snubs to India. Indeed, Beijing’s first reaction to Solih’s upset win was to urge ‘stability’ in the island nation and express the expectation that the FTA would not be renegotiated by Solih. It is for these reasons that commentators assuming a smooth transfer of power in Male at the end of November when Solih is expected to be sworn in need to temper their enthusiasm with a dose of the geo strategic reality that China is not going to roll over and let India — or indeed the Maldives — carry on as before after having got a foot in the door after years of trying to expand its sphere of influence in the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi must keep its eyes on the ball.

Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer

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