Insights into Editorial: Maldivian wave
A massive victory for Maldives President Ibu Solih’s Maldives Democratic Party in Parliament and the return of ex-president Nasheed to active politics as a MP will boost India’s strategic outreach in its Southern neighbourhood where China has been attempting to make inroads.
President Ibu Solih’s Party (MDP) won 67 out of 87 seats in parliament, a historic margin that will strengthen President Ibu Solih’s mandate to investigate the former government’s ties to China.
The people of the small archipelago in the Indian Ocean voted for change and brought to power the Opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
Maldives has been caught in a battle for influence between India and China, which invested millions of dollars during Abdulla Yameen’s rule as part of its Belt and Road plan.
Maldives new govt. will investigate its debts to China:
- There are accusations that the Yameen government of allowing a Chinese ‘land grab’ of Maldivian islands, key infrastructure, and even essential utilities.
- This ‘land grab’ has raised the concerns of Maldives being increasingly falling into an economic neo-colonial influence of China.
- In the run-up to the elections, Solih’s party promised voters to investigate debts to China, which it fears could run as high as $3 billion.
- Increased Chinese investments and BRI designs in the Maldives had made India wary as Delhi has been a traditional net security provider in the region.
- Ahead of last year’s election, former president Mohamed Nasheed, then in exile in Sri Lanka, claimed as much as 80% of the Maldives’ foreign debt was owed to China.
- President Solih promised to reverse this and investigate the former administration’s ties to China amid accusations of corruption.
- Solih said a new commission would be tasked with “investigating corruption and recovering state assets function with the support of the new Parliament.”
- Addressing the supporters at the victory rally, President Solih reiterated his zero-tolerance policy for corruption.
India and Maldives friendship reaching new heights:
Maldives foreign minister Abdulla Shahid has said that the friendship between India and Maldives has reached new heights since Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the swearing in of President Solih.
The Indian government had announced a 1.4 billion US dollars assistance to Maldives and details of projects are being formulated. Maldives requested for assistance in construction of a cricket stadium during the recent visit to Male of External affairs minister.
In an interview, Maldives foreign minister said that development cooperation agenda is being implemented at quick pace.
Mr. Shahid said that his government’s promise for people-oriented projects like water and sewage facilities, are being implemented with generous assistance from the Government of India.
Mr. Shahid also said that there is a very fruitful defence cooperation between the two countries.
Now Maldives want to unravel the web of Chinese Loans:
- So far as India’s interests in the Indian Ocean Region are concerned, warm bilateral ties between New Delhi and Male are a high priority after five years of strategic drift that benefited Beijing considerably.
- According to some analyses, the surging influx of Chinese infrastructure investment under the Yameen administration may have caused the Maldives national debt to balloon to nearly a quarter of its GDP.
- As it seeks to unravel this web of Chinese loans, the new leadership has promised that what is owed would be paid.
- However, the honouring of such debt, especially where it was linked to the grant of land, lease rights and mega-construction projects, will be complicated.
- MoUs on Indian grant aid for “high-impact community development projects” have been signed, as also agreements on clean energy and regional maritime security.
- So long as the new government presses on with the urgent task of rebuilding and deepening the Maldives’ democratic credentials, there is hope for political stability and economic development across the 1,192-island archipelago and the wider IOR.
Maldives is an island nation located in the Indian Ocean. Relation with Maldives is important for India given its strategic location and geographical proximity.
As Mr. Solih grapples with above mentioned challenges, the assurance that the Maldives has India’s backing would be vital.
Already, the elements of a strategic reset with India seem to be falling into place.
When Mr. Solih visited India in December, a $1.4 billion financial assistance package for the Maldives was announced, and the two governments agreed to exempt holders of diplomatic and official passports from visa requirements.
By changing to more democratic form of government in Maldives, India can engage with Maldives to establish much more friendly relations than previous government era to protect the safety and security of entire Indian Ocean region.