Mandate in Maldives is beyond the ‘Power Game’ of Indian Ocean Politics
Apart from changing the power equation in the Indian Ocean belt, the fresh mandate in the Maldives has reiterated the people’s belief in a strong Central Government, an on-going world-wide trend
Addressing a press conference on being declared victorious as the Presidential candidate of the third ever multi-party Presidential election of September 2018, Mr Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, welcomed the decisive mandate given by the Maldivians, within and outside the country. Calling the Maldivian journey to democracy difficult and one that led some to prison cells, and others to years of exile, he expressed satisfaction on the fact that it has ended at the ballot box.
Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the opposition candidate for the Presidency, with supporters at his final campaign rally
Maldives, an island nation of 1200 islands grouped in a double chain formation of 27 atolls in the Indian Ocean archipelago had the eyes of the global psephology community as the masses voted to take their call on democracy. The island nation registered a voter turnout of over 85 per cent with extended voting hours.
The vote is being seen as a decisive mandate in favour of democracy and development. With a population of less than half a million, the country has been stranded regarding growth. The increase in infrastructural assets has been at the cost of China’s debt, and tourism is bleak, which provides for one-third of the economic output of the nation.
‘Power Game’- India or China?
Apart from tourism, global aids and international investments, Maldives is also dependent on the Indian Ocean for its source of livelihood, security, progress and advancement. With its geographical position in the heart of the ocean, the dependence dates back to millennia. Often being referred to as the “People of the Ocean”, Maldivians have a rich history of co-existing with sea traders, seafarers and sailors who traversed the waters of the ocean since days of ancient civilisation. However, any threat to the internal stability and presence of political turbulence within the national borders of the country poses a threat to the prosperity of the region, thus, making it vital for each of the littoral nations to maintain stability and security within their boundaries to ensure the progress of the region, at large.
China's ambassador to Maldives Zhang Lizhong (left) with Maldivian president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Photo- Courtesy Twitter
China is ready to Woo Maldives!
China is making determined efforts to woo the Maldives’ president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in a bid to ensure the strategic gains it has made in the Indian Ocean atoll nation in recent years do not get diluted by the exit of Abdulla Yameen, the former President who was considered pro-China.
“During the call, they (Zhang and Solih) discussed how China can continue to assist the Maldives with its development, in particular in housing, water and sewerage, and tourism,” a statement from the Maldives President-elect’s office said. Zhang and Solih “discussed foreign policy and the President-elect mentioned that his foreign policy priorities would focus on democracy, human rights, and climate change,” the statement said. During talks, Zhang “extended an invitation to the President-elect to make a state visit to China once he is sworn into office” on 17 November, it added.
Ever since the election verdict came out, the world has been polarised on the notion of the reinstatement of the might of China or India. While the outgoing regime was known for its evident pro-China stand and the surge in Chinese investment in and around Male ever since Yameen took power, inhibitions exist on what will follow with Mr Solih at the helm of affairs with debts inherited from his predecessor.
However, more than being a game of power between two of Maldives’ northern neighbours, the mandate is for the island nation to script a history of its own. Picking up from the growing global trend of electing a strong and decisive Central Government, people of Maldives to have followed the lead. It remains for Mr Solih and his coalition partners to meet the expectations of the masses.
With people yearning for a wave of change and development, it is important for the President-elect to engage with the youth and provide them with avenues of employment and education. One of Yameen’s ambitious schemes for the youth was “Get Set Loan”. Under this scheme, young entrepreneurs were encouraged to seek loans to establish their start-ups. In a recent statement, President Yameen had made claims of disbursing loans worth 1.6 million USD to 72 young entrepreneurs. However, some discrepancy was reported by the local media regarding loans being sanctioned but not yet released.
Reinstating the Autonomy of Institutions
A very decisive role was also played by the security agencies, judiciary and Election Commission of the Maldives in the successful conduct of these elections. Abdullah Yameen, who is known to be a strong man with a tendency to interfere in the functioning of the autonomous public institutions, was feared to be making attempts to rig the elections. With his last move of raiding the opposition coalition’s campaign office on the eve of elections, the free and fair conduct of the voting process was being seen to be a challenge. However, the results are out, and the mandate has been decisive. Not only did this unite the entire political opposition but also the public institutions in ensuring fair conduct of the biggest festival of democracy. It is now for the President-elect, who has been a lawmaker himself, to correct these distortions and grant functional autonomy to these public institutions to carry out their mandate in a constitutional manner, free of political interferences.
Talking about his objectives for the next five years in his victory speech, Mr Solih said that he wanted to consolidate democracy in his country and pave the path for the establishment of peaceful and just society for all. While guaranteeing human rights and ensuring accountability, he vowed to be the President of all Maldivians, irrespective of their electoral choices. While Mr Solih, is set to take the reins of power in the second half of November, he has started on a high note. It remains for him and his coalition partners to keep up to the aspirations of the masses and provide the Maldivian electorate with a stable and democratic society governed on the virtues of the Constitution.
(The writer is Research Director of Brookings India)