A run-off election in the Maldives on Saturday unseated incumbent president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party. His challenger, Mohamed Muizzu of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), got 54 per cent of the votes in a contest that saw 85 per cent voter turnout. It was the country’s fourth democratic election since it brought an end to a three-decade-long dictatorship in 2008. After Saturday’s results were announced, Solih conceded the election and congratulated the president-elect.
Pulling away from a neighbourly embrace?
The Maldives, with a population of 521,457 (2021), is an archipelago that sits astride vital east-west shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, making it an attractive ally to two regional heavyweights: China and India. Alignment with one versus the other was a major theme framing the contest between Muizzu, who took a pro-China stance, and Solih, who leaned heavily toward India. Part of Muizzu’s “India Out” campaign message focused on expelling the estimated 75 Indian military personnel currently stationed in the Maldives. According to New Delhi, the personnel are there to operate and maintain an aircraft and two helicopters that it donated to the Maldives. As president, Solih touted what he saw as the benefits from a closer relationship with India on a range of issues, including maritime security co-operation and economic ties.
Hoping to reap the benefits of tighter ties with China
When the PPM returns to the presidency on November 17, Maldivians will get a clearer picture of what a pro-China policy means for them in practice. As some observers note, China’s economic ties with the country remained strong during the five years of the Solih presidency. The PPM government that preceded Solih’s tenure (2013-18) was criticized for taking on about C$1.4 billion in Chinese loans to pay for infrastructure and other projects. Whether Maldivians feel the benefits of an even closer relationship with Beijing, and whether this relationship addresses everyday concerns such as the housing crisis in the capital city of Malé, remains to be seen.