Maldives: Political history
This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
2008-18, in a nutshell
The political history of the Maldives, 2008-18, in a nutshell
Indian soldiers in the Maldives
Are Indian troops stationed in the islands at all? What is their strength? We explain the five major factors behind the fear and suspicion in the archipelago.
“Indian military personnel cannot stay in the Maldives. This is the policy of President Dr Mohamed Muizzu and that of this administration,” Abdulla Nazim Ibrahim, the public policy secretary at the President’s Office, said.
Maldives and India have set up a high-level core group to negotiate the withdrawal of troops. The group held its first meeting at the Foreign Ministry Headquarters in Male on Sunday morning. The meeting was also attended by Indian High Commissioner Munu Mahawar, Maldivian media reports said.
The Indian government did not immediately confirm the media report or comment on it.
Why is Muizzu insisting on Indian troops leaving Maldives? And why are Indian troops stationed in the islands at all? What is their strength? We explain.
How many Indian troops are in the Maldives?
Contrary to what the ‘India Out’ rhetoric in Maldives may suggest, no large contingent of Indian soldiers is present on the archipelago. According to the latest government figures, there are 77 Indian military personnel in the Maldives.
Indian soldiers have been sent to the Maldives at various points for training Maldivian troops, in both combat and reconnaissance and rescue-aid operations. Yet, there have been some Maldivian nationals, including politicians who have protested their presence in any capacity in the country. Analysts in the Maldives and India say that the ‘India Out’ campaign has exaggerated the role that these soldiers play in the Maldives and have portrayed their presence as a threat to the country’s national security.
According to Dr. Gulbin Sultana, a research analyst at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, whose area of research includes the Maldives, there were approximately 88 Indian military personnel in the Maldives till at least 2022. Local news organisations in the Maldives like Sun Online and The Maldives Journal have also reported on the presence of 88 military personnel from India.
During its tenure however, the Solih government had refused to officially respond to requests for confirmation by local press in the Maldives about the exact number of Indian military personnel.
Then, in 2023, weeks after President Muizzu took office, the Maldives government had said that as of November last year, “77 Indian military personnel stationed within Maldivian territory”. That means that it is likely that between 2022 to 2023, at least 10 Indian military personnel who had been engaged in various roles had left the Maldives. In the press conference in November, the Maldives president’s office outlined the specific roles of the Indian military personnel in the Maldives, saying that “24 individuals are involved in helicopter operations, 25 are engaged in the operations of a Dornier aircraft, 26 are assigned to a second helicopter’s operations, and an additional two individuals are responsible for the maintenance and engineering works of these aircraft.”
There have been multiple factors at play and these anti-India sentiments were further inflamed during the recent presidential elections in the Maldives, where disinformation and misinformation, particularly against India, was rampant. This is due to multiple reasons, including the pushing of a narrative that the Ibrahim Mohamed Solih-led Maldivian Democratic Party was a political party influenced by India. The coalition of the People’s National Congress & the Progressive Party of Maldives party, whose representative President Muizzu won the 2023 presidential election, is considered to be pro-China.
Why are India’s troops in Maldives?
India and the Maldives have a long history of cooperation in a variety of areas, including defence. The one time India’s soldiers entered the island for an actual military operation was in November 1988 — to thwart an attempted coup, at the request of the government of then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In a quick operation, Indian troops managed to secure the President and capture the rebels. In the three decades since, Maldives has generally appreciated India’s role in this episode.
The ‘India Out’ campaign began much later, sometime in 2020. The resentment had been building ever since Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party (PPM), with a pro-China tilt, became president in 2013.
What are the five major factors behind the fear and suspicion?
One of the major triggers for this was the long-standing controversy over two Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters (ALF) given by India to the Maldives in 2010 and in 2015, both of which were used for ocean search-and-rescue operations, maritime weather surveillance and for airlifting patients between islands, and were based in Addu Atoll and at Hanimaadhoo.
According to the terms of bilateral agreements between the two countries, Indian officers had been sent to the Maldives to train the Maldives National Defence Force, under whose command these helicopters operate.
“These helicopters were for humanitarian purposes only, but some in the anti-India constituency, particularly Yameen’s party PPM, were trying to portray that by gifting these helicopters, India was creating military presence in the country because they were military choppers,” Sultana had told indianexpress.com in 2021.
Another major cause of grievances within Maldives was the Solih government’s perceived lack of transparency about its dealings with India.
Then there is the fact that Maldives does rely heavily on India for maritime security. As Maldivian history expert Rasheeda M Didi wrote for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in 2022, India, Maldives and Sri Lanka collaborate to counter common maritime security threats and challenges such as illicit trafficking; piracy; and illegal, unregulated (or unreported) fishing, a major concern for the archipelago.
Didi wrote that another flashpoint was Maldives’ new police academy, built with India’s help and housing the National College of Policing and Law Enforcement. “The opposition’s [now in power] mistrust stems from the sheer size of the building and surrounding complex. One rumor making the rounds implies that the only reason the academy is so large is to house Indians associated with the academy and their families, supposedly rendering it an opportune place to bring more Indians into the country. This conjecture, however, is unfounded,” she wrote.
A fifth factor is the UTF Harbour Project agreement signed between India and the Maldives in February 2021, under which India was to develop and maintain a coastguard harbour and dockyard at Uthuru Thilafalhu, a strategically located atoll near the capital Malé. Sections of Maldivian media had speculated that the UTF project would be turned into an Indian naval base. However, then Maldivian chief of defence forces, Major-General Abdulla Shamaal, had clarified even before the agreement was signed that while the Indian government had indicated it would provide grant assistance for the project, there were no plans of any Indian naval base in the country.
2014-2016: island-leasing scam
The president of the Maldives appeared to accept lavish gifts from a billionaire developer who was later leased two islands in the paradise archipelago without bidding for them, a corruption watchdog alleged Tuesday.
The claims — including that President Abdulla Yameen directly participated in a multi-million dollar scam that helped developers skirt public tenders and acquire dozens of islands and lagoons — come days before the strongman leader seeks re-election in the nation of 340,000 people.
Yameen, whose main political rivals are in jail or exile, has denied any involvement in the alleged island-leasing scam, which first came to light in a 2016 probe by Al Jazeera. His deputy and then-tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, who was accused of spearheading the scheme between 2014 and 2015 and paying off judges and politicians, was later jailed on multiple charges including corruption.
But new allegations of Yameen’s involvement have been made by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which gleaned fresh details from leaked government documents and other evidence it says implicates Yameen. The global investigative journalism consortium says Yameen assisted with at least two dozen no-tender deals to tourism resort developers, and directly ordered one island be leased through a stateowned company at the centre of the scandal.
2012: Coup and after
The Hindu, April 1, 2015
Mr. Nasheed resigned as president in 2012 following weeks of public protests against his order to arrest the top Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Mohamed was arrested soon after he released an opposition politician in detention and Nasheed’s administration accused him of political bias and corruption.
February 7, 2012
Police revolt forces Maldives President from office
In a day of dramatic developments that captured both the fragility of democracy in the Maldives and also the maturity of its political institutions, President Mohammed Nasheed resigned in the face of a mutiny by policemen that he said he did not want to put down by force, handing over the reins of power to his Vice-President, Dr. Waheed.
February 8, 2012
Waheed named President
Mohammad Waheed Hassan became the President of Maldives
February 8, 2012
Judge held by Nasheed released
A few hours after the Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed resigned office, the Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, was released. The arrest of the judge was one of the immediate causes of Mr. Nasheed’s fall from power. He had ordered the arrest of the judge on charges of corruption, irked by the fact that Mr. Abdullah set free an Opposition politician who was arrested by police loyal to Mr. Nasheed.
February 8, 2012
Violence across Maldives threatens to get out of hand
Violence, fuelled by a speculative media owing allegiance to one party or the other, spread across the atolls of the Maldives after the deposed President, Mohammed Nasheed, on Wednesday decided to take the issue to the streets.
February 9, 2012
India sends official to defuse tensions
M. Ganapathi, Secretary (West), MEA, heldconsultations with a wide range of stakeholders in The Maldives in an attempt to bring all players to the negotiating table and sort out outstanding issues.
February 9, 2012
India played neutral as Nasheed's men sought military intervention
Fearing for the personal liberty of the deposed Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed, close aides said some of his Ministers had sought Indian military assistance when the “coup” was under way but none came.
February 9, 2012
Warrant against Nasheed
Police spokesman Abdul Mannan Yusuf refused to disclose the grounds for the warrant, or say when Mr. Nasheed, who is living at his Male home surrounded by supporters, would be arrested.
February 9, 2012
Waheed effects quick changes
Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was given the Home Affairs while Mohamed Nazim was made the Minister of Defence and National Security. They were told to resolve the situation, implement laws according to the Constitution and treat every citizen equally.
February 11, 2012
U.S. presses for Maldives coalition
Both M. Ganapathi, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert O' Blake held meetings with the former President, Mohammed Nasheed, the new President, Waheed Hassan, and other players. They stressed that the formation of a truly rainbow coalition was in the best interests of the people. The Maldivian Democratic Party of Mr. Nasheed will also talk to the new regime on joining the government.
February 12, 2012
New Maldivian Cabinet sworn in
The former President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, displayed admirable restraint as new President Waheed Hassan finally got his act together, named a new Cabinet, and embarked on a Himalayan task of making the national unity government work.
February 16, 2012
India brokers deal in Maldives
Maldives will go to the polls, possibly by year-end, to elect a new President. Till then, the national unity government will run the country. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), to which the former President, Mohamed Nasheed, belongs, will be part of the government.
March 7, 2012
Gayoom returns to Maldives
Almost a month after a new regime took over in Maldives amidst allegations of coup, the former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, returned to the country, opposing early polls and claimed he had no role in the change of government.
April 19, 2012
Former dictator plotted coup, says Nasheed
The former Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed, has said he received detailed warnings of an imminent coup from the country's military intelligence service weeks before he was ousted on February 6.
August 15, 2012
Maldives talks meander
The meeting of political parties represented in the Maldivian Parliament, The Majlis, with Vice-President Mohamed Waheedheen did not break any new ground.
August 30, 2012
Nasheed ouster not a coup: probe panel
The Commission of National Inquiry concluded that “there was no illegal coercion or intimidation nor any coup d’etat. The Commission has received no evidence supporting or to substantiate these allegations”.
February 13, 2013
Nasheed takes refuge at Indian High Commission
The former Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed, walked into the Indian High Commission in Male at noon after an arrest warrant was issued against him for failure to appear in a local court.
February 23, 2013
Nasheed leaves Indian embassy after ‘deal’
Thanks to India’s intervention, the crisis in the Maldives has blown over with the former President, Mohamed Nasheed, emerging out of the Indian High Commission in Male.
September 5, 2013
Maldivian Elections Commission set for polls
September 8, 2013
It’s Nasheed vs Yaameen in run-off
Former President Mohamed Nasheed and Yaameen Abdulla, half-brother to ex-President Maumoon Gayoom, will fight it out in the second round of presidential elections, . scheduled for September 28.
12:00 AM October 8, 2013 Setback to Nasheed as top court annuls poll results
The Maldives Supreme Court, in a midnight ruling, has annulled the results of the first round elections of September 7, in which Maldivian Democratic Party candidate, Mohamed Nasheed, stood first with over 45.45 per cent of the popular vote, and the Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yaameen was placed a distant second.
October 19, 2013
Police prevent Maldives polls
Acting on a mandate from the Maldivian National Security Council headed by President Mohamed Waheed, the police prevented the country’s re-scheduled presidential elections from going ahead.
November 10, 2013
Maldives court puts off presidential runoff
The Supreme Court ruled that the consecutive days of elections would be impractical, and set November 16 for the runoff.]
November 16, 2013
Yaameen elected Maldivian President by a narrow margin
Abdulla Yaameen, half-brother of former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — who ruled the country for about three decades — will be the new President of the archipelago nation.
November 17, 2013
Yameen sworn in as Maldivian President
Mr. Yameen, the half-brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Ahmad Faiz at a special session of Parliament. He was given a 21-gun salute. Mohammad Jameel was sworn in as Vice-President.
March 23, 2014
Majority mandate for Maldives ruling coalition
The Maldivian parliamentary elections, which were held amidst the controversial removal of the head and deputy of the country’s Elections Commission, concluded largely peacefully.
February 22, 2015
Nasheed held in Male under anti-terror law
Just days after he appealed to India to intervene in the ongoing crackdown on cases of alleged treason and terrorism by the Maldives government of President Yameen, former President Mohammad Nasheed was arrested in Male.
‘Chief Justice was threatened with death'
Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed was warned he would be "cut into pieces" if he did not overturn a court order quashing convictions against high-profile political dissidents: Lawyer
'The Chief Justice was forcefully dragged on the floor from his chambers by uniformed security personnel in riot gear after he told them they were in contempt of court'
MALE: The Maldives' top judge received death threats before his arrest in a regime crackdown, his lawyer said on Thursday ahead of a United Nations Security Council hearing on the island nation's political crisis. Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed was warned he would be "cut into pieces" if he did not overturn a court order quashing convictions against high-profile political dissidents, his lawyer Hisaan Hussain said.
Saeed was arrested as President Abdulla Yameen declared a state of emergency in the honeymoon islands after refusing to obey the court order.
The top judge was accused of accepting bribes to impeach the regime leader, who has jailed most of his political opponents.
"The Chief Justice was forcefully dragged on the floor from his chambers by uniformed security personnel in riot gear after he told them they were in contempt of court," Hussain said. He did not say who issued the threats.
Saeed is among two top justices detained in a sweeping crackdown by Yameen, who has doubled down since the Supreme Court cleared his political rival Mohamed Nasheed, among other regime critics, of terrorism charges.
The remaining three judges restored the conviction Tuesday "in light of the concerns raised by the President", after Yameen declared the state of emergency and accused the justices of trying to overthrow him.
The international community has censured the president for imposing special emergency provisions that allow the military to detain suspects for long periods without charge.
The UN has urged Yameen to lift the state of emergency, and will discuss the crisis gripping the Indian Ocean archipelago in a closed-door meeting at the Security Council today.
"The Maldives have seen in recent years attacks on political opponents, on journalists, on civil society and human right defenders, and what is happening now is tantamount to an all-out assault on democracy," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
Maldives SC revokes order to free prisoners
Move Follows Imposition Of Emergency, Top Judge’s Arrest
The political crisis in the Maldives took a turn for the worse late Tuesday night after the supreme court revoked last week’s order to release nine high-profile political prisoners. This came hours after embattled President Abdulla Yameen declared an emergency and the arrest of two judges, including chief justice Abdulla Saeed, prompting former president Mohamed Nasheed to seek India’s military intervention.
In the late-night development, the remaining three judges of the supreme court amended the order given last week to release the “prisoners”, among whom is Nasheed. In a statement, the judges said they were revoking the order to release the prisoners “in light of the concerns raised by the President”.
Earlier in the day, in his appeal to India, Nasheed had tweeted: “We would like the Indian government to send an envoy, backed by its military, to free the judges and the political detainees, including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, from their detention and to bring them to their homes. We are asking for a physical presence.”
While Gayoom — a former president and Yameen’s halfbrother who is now with the opposition — had already been detained at his home early Tuesday morning, no details were given about any charges against the chief justice and the other arrested judge, Ali Hameed. Later, on national television, the President said that he had ordered the emergency to investigate what he said was a “coup”, claiming that the CJ was trying to illegally impeach him and sack the attorney general.
Nasheed called Yameen's “martial law” declaration an illegal act. “President Yameen's announcement... is tantamount to a declaration of martial law. This declaration is unconstitutional and illegal. Nobody in the Maldives is required to, nor should, follow this unlawful order,” said Nasheed, who is currently in Sri Lanka. “We must remove him from power. The people of the Maldives have a legitimate request to world governments, especially to India and the US,” he said.
The US weighed in, saying it was “troubled” and “disappointed” by the declaration of emergency and asked Yameen to comply with the rule of law and implement the SC ruling.
The Maldives is an archipelago of more than 1,000 islands with fewer than 400,000 citizens, more than one-third of them living in the crowded capital city, Male.
Gayoom second Maldives ex-president to be jailed
A Maldives court on Wednesday sentenced a former strongman accused of plotting to overthrow the government to 19 months in prison for failing to cooperate with the police investigation.
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Indian Ocean archipelago state from 1978 to 2008, is the second former president to be jailed under President Abdulla Yameen’s rule. He was arrested in February on charges of attempting to overthrow the government of Yameen, his half-brother.
A court sentenced him to one year, seven months and six days in prison for failing to hand over his mobile phone to investigators. Two Supreme Court judges, Abdulla Saeed and Ali Hameed, who were arrested with Gayoom, were also given the same sentences for the same offence on Wednesday.
Maldives, known for its expensive tourist resorts, became a multiparty democracy in 2008, ending Gayoom’s 30-year strongman rule. However, Yameen, who was elected in 2013, has rolled back much of the democratic gains.
Mohamed Nasheed, who was the country’s first freely elected president in 2008, was earlier given a 13-year sentence in a trial widely criticised for due process violations. However, he was granted asylum in Britain. Yameen’s former vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, two former defence ministers, a prosecutor general and opposition lawmakers are among those who have been jailed during Yameen’s tenure. All of the trials have been criticized for alleged lack of fairness.
With all of his potential opponents either in jail or in exile, Yameen is preparing to run for repolls in September virtually unopposed.
President Yameen loses elections to Ibrahim Solih
New Govt Plans To Audit Chinese Infra Projects
In a verdict that could be a game changer for Indian diplomacy and a setback to China’s strategy of backing autocratic strongmen, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen suffered a comprehensive defeat in the presidential polls with the opposition’s Ibrahim Solih winning by a margin of 16.6% votes.
Despite Yameen’s efforts to muzzle democracy by imposing emergency and jailing opposition leaders and judges, the voters rejected his regime, ushering a change that promises to reconfigure geopolitics in the Indian Ocean. PM Narendra Modi spoke to Solih and congratulated him. The two agreed to work together to strengthen relations between the countries. Modi is likely to visit Male before the year end. Close aides of Solih and Maldives ex-president Md Nasheed later said Modi might be invited for Solih’s swearing-in.
Nasheed told TOI that the new government would audit infrastructure projects in the light of alleged “land grab” by Chinese interests. He said two Indian military choppers, which Yameen wanted to send back, would remain in the archipelago.
Nasheed expected to play a guiding role to govt
According to the election commission, incumbent Abdulla Yameen got 41.7% of the vote to opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih’s 58.3% with over 89% voters turning out, indicating that opposition unity and the incumbent’s deeply unpopular regime had turned the tables on the ruling party and its backers. Yameen will remain in office till his tenure ends in November but declared that he had accepted the results.
India has waged a battle of attrition with the Yameen regime ever since the leader declared emergency in February and refused to heed advice to restore democratic functioning, banking on support he received from China which saw an opportunity to drop anchor in India’s strategic backyard. But China’s strategy of betting on autocratic leaders, seeing them as “single window” power centres, came unstuck as it had in Sri Lanka where it backed Mahinda Rajapaksa or Malaysia’s Mohammed Najib.
Nasheed said the ostentatious infra projects comprising “concrete and steel had failed to catch the imagination of the people’’. Apart from an audit, the new government is also expected to look into how much money came into Maldives in the recent past. “I am optimistic China will understand Maldives’s reasons for doing (audits) given what has happened recently in countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia,’’ Nasheed said as he thanked India for its support to the joint opposition.
Nasheed recalled how the cost for the recently inaugurated ‘China-Maldives Friendship Bridge’ was estimated at around $77 million when his government approved it but later shot up to $300 million under Yameen. While Malaysia recently cancelled several Belt and Road Initiative projects, Sri Lanka continues to reel under the mountain of debt, having handed over Hambantota port to China on a 99-year lease.
While Yameen had ensured disqualification of Nasheed from the polls, the pro-India former president was the tallest leader of the opposition coalition and is expected to play a guiding role for the new government headed by president-elect Solih. “We will work with India for a meaningful safety and security umbrella in the Indian Ocean,’’ Nasheed said. He added that the voters had made it clear who they were aligned with. “We would like to plug into India’s development and its democratic institutions for capacity building. Connectivity is another important issue India can help us with.”
Nasheed though ruled out becoming a part of the government. “I believe Solih has it in him to take everybody together and forge national unity.” Nasheed’s remarks on China are extremely significant keeping in mind reservations expressed by several countries in south and southeast Asia over BRI, described by many as a debt trap. In an interview to TOI in February, Nasheed had said China had acquired as many as 17 islands from Yameen.
Maldives SC rejects Yameen’s petition against poll defeat
The Maldives’ SC ended weeks of uncertainty by rejecting strongman President Abdulla Yameen’s controversial bid to annul last month’s election results, upholding his landslide defeat to an opposition candidate.
The five-judge Supreme Court bench unanimously ruled that Yameen had failed to prove his claim that the election was rigged and a fresh poll was necessary in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Under international pressure, Yameen initially conceded defeat in the September 23 election.
But he then filed an appeal this month, throwing the nation into turmoil and attracting warnings from the US and regional superpower India to respect the outcome.
Yameen claimed magic ink had been used to rig the election and that votes marked for him disappeared inside ballot boxes.
Opposition activists celebrated outside the SC after the decision was read out, effectively drawing a line under Yameen’s five years of iron-fisted rule. “After weeks of uncertainty, the Maldivian people can enjoy clarity regarding the outcome of the election,” said President-elect Ibrahim Solih.
The country’s independent Elections Commission, through its lawyers, had argued his petition was based on false allegations and should be dismissed.
SC clears Nasheed of terror charge
The Maldives top court overturned a terrorism conviction on Monday against the country’s first democratically elected leader Mohamed Nasheed, who fled into exile after being sentenced to 13 years behind bars.
The Supreme Court said Nasheed was wrongfully charged and should not have been convicted in the 2015 trial described by the United Nations as politically motivated. Nasheed went into exile a year later while abroad seeking medical treatment, and was branded a fugitive from justice.
“President Nasheed’s entire trial was a politically-motivated sham,” his lawyer, Hisaan Hussein, said after his conviction was quashed. “It is appalling that an innocent man was unjustly forced to spend a year in jail, 35 months in exile, and was prevented from standing for political office.”
Nasheed only returned to the Maldives this month after his political rival Abdulla Yameen was beaten in a presidential election. The strongman president jailed or exiled most of his opponents but since he departed office political prisoners have been freed and opponents abroad have returned.
Nasheed, the leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, was expected to contest the September poll but was barred on account of his terrorism conviction. His party’s nominee, Ibrahim Solih, ran and unexpectedly defeated Yameen despite curbs on opposition campaigning. Nasheed risked arrest if he ever returned to the Maldives while Yameen remained in power.
Anti- India tilt likely to be corrected
Outgoing Prez Allied Closely To China, But Ibrahim Solih Is Likely To Correct Tilt
India was first off the bat to welcome the results of the presidential election in Maldives, which threw up yet another surprise as incumbent Abdulla Yameen lost to the unified opposition candidate Ibrahim Solih. With only early provisional results in, the foreign office said in an early morning statement, “We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory and hope that the election commission will officially confirm the result at the earliest.” After two years of tetchy relations between India and its Indian Ocean neighbour, the polls have opened a new chapter in bilateral ties.
India was quickly followed by Sri Lanka and US in welcoming the election and the results. The action was more to remind Yameen that the world stood behind the process and its outcome than anything else. The elections surprised people yet again since it had become virtually accepted wisdom that Yameen would be using the elections to merely consolidate his already overwhelming power. In the past year, Yameen has not only thumbed his nose at India but was well on his way to becoming a security threat for New Delhi, by allying too closely with Beijing. Given Maldives’s strategic location in the Indian Ocean, India had been feeling the heat for some time.
Maldives’ ambassador to India Ahmed Mohamed told TOI, “History has proved that although we may be accused of all sorts of things, we do practice democracy, irrespective of what the results may be. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled for 30 years, but it was he who opened Maldives to elections and multi-party rule.” Mohamed, who is close to Yameen, said he would go back to join the opposition in his country.
India played a waiting game since February 5, when Yameen upended the judicial system by jailing Supreme Court judges, which he followed in the following weeks by throwing into prison almost all other political leaders, including his half brother and former president Gayoom. At times, India seemed almost ineffectual or helpless, as Yameen demanded that India remove its helicopters and cut visas for Indian workers.
Yameen moved Maldives from its India moorings to assiduously courting China and Saudi Arabia. China built infrastructure, resorts and reports said deepened its presence in at least seven of the important islands.
Solih is likely to correct this tilt and be more accommodating of India’s security interests. But it would be foolish to believe that China would be out of the Maldives. With 70% of Maldives’ external debt to China, China is not going anywhere, as has been seen in neighbouring Sri Lanka. What the elections have done is to put India back in the strategic game in Maldives.
April: Nasheed makes political comeback
The Maldives on Saturday held its first parliamentary election since former strongman leader Abdulla Yameen was forced to stand down, with his archrival tipped to make a big political comeback.
Election officials estimated the final turnout to be between 70 and 80%, down from the 89% recorded at the September presidential election which unexpectedly toppled Yameen.
“I urge Maldivians to go out and vote,” President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said after voting in the capital, Male, where his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) fielded former president Mohamed Nasheed as a candidate.
Nasheed, 51, is the highest profile contender for the 87-member People’s Majlis, or parliament that is elected for five years. Over 385 candidates are in the fray. The first results are expected on Sunday.
Nasheed returned from an enforced exile abroad after his deputy Solih’s unexpected victory in September. Nasheed was jailed for 13 years on a controversial terrorism charge when Yameen was in power. However, the conviction was overturned last year after the presidency changed.
Solih said he expected Saturday’s poll to return a strong legislature led by his MDP. Nasheed is expected to wield considerable influence in any new government. He cast his ballot in Male, but made no comment.
The opposition coalition that helped Solih win has since come apart, with constituent parties going their separate ways for Saturday’s election.
Voting took place for overseas Maldivians in neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, as well as London. AFP
May 23: Before the elections
With presidential polls in the Maldives scheduled for September this year, significant developments have taken place in the country’s politics. These elections, which some observers say will be among the most critical and contentious the nation has seen, will have ramifications not just for its immediate neighbours, but also for geopolitics in the Indian Ocean region.
Some recent developments:
In the ruling party
Cracks have formed within the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), with members divided in their support to President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and to former president Mohamed Nasheed, who currently serves as the Speaker of the People’s Majlis.
In January this year, Solih won the party primary, defeating Nasheed, and will run for a second term in the September elections.
For months, the rift between Solih and Nasheed had been bubbling beneath the surface. But tensions soared when Nasheed, after the primaries loss, openly refused to back Solih and said he would suggest an alternative candidate. Taking the dispute one step further, Nasheed started coalition discussions with Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim, although no official announcements have been made regarding a tie-up between Nasheed and the Jumhooree Party.
Simultaneously, several MDP members have refused to extend support to President Solih in the upcoming elections and some have also left the MDP.
In December last year, the Maldives criminal court sentenced former president Abdulla Yameen to 11 years in prison and fined him $5 million over corruption and money laundering charges. This became a major problem for the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which had declared him its presidential candidate. Yameen has denied any wrongdoing.
However, this recent conviction of Abdulla Yameen in a money-laundering and corruption case is likely to disqualify him from the position of presidential candidate, explains Dr. Gulbin Sultana, a research analyst at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, whose area of research includes the Maldives.
As of now, the PPM has refused to field another candidate and has resolved to appeal Yameen’s conviction before higher courts. If Yameen is acquitted in time to file his candidacy, it changes the game. “Things are very uncertain, but their main goal is to get Yameen freed,” Sultana told indianexpress.com.
What to expect
“Electoral alliances are very important in the Maldives. Since 2008, no party has won on their own. They need alliances to form a coalition government. That is why negotiations are ongoing, but it is too early to say what is going to happen because there are so many uncertainties,” said Sultana. “If you observe the presidential elections in the Maldives, it is always like that. Till the very end, you don’t have any clue about what is going to happen.”
The split within the MDP may work for the Opposition, some experts believe.
Impact on India
Prior to 2018, when the PPM was the ruling party, the favour extended to China by the Maldives under Yameen’s foreign policy was clear. When the Solih administration came to power, New Delhi got some respite from hostilities, and recovered some lost diplomatic ground.
Should the MDP not manage to secure another term, it will raise concerns for New Delhi. In addition to diplomatic relations, there are several high-value India-backed projects underway in the country. New Delhi is also tackling anti-India sentiment, particularly over the last two to three years, which has been weaponised by the Opposition during the election campaign. “But there is an understanding that regardless of who comes to power, they will have to have some sort of working relationship with India,” said Sultana.
China-backed candidate Mohamed Muizzu defeated pro-India President Ibrahim Solih in the presidential runoff in the Maldives. Solih trailed Muizzu by 7% votes in the first round and failed to secure the additional votes needed to win the runoff. Muizzu accused Solih of seeking India's endorsement for every decision, which he claimed undermined the Maldives' independence and sovereignty.
India suffered a setback Saturday in the neighbouring Maldives as a candidate backed by China, Mohamed Muizzu, defeated pro-India President Ibrahim Solih in the presidential runoff.
The face off between Muizzu and Solih followed the polls on September 9 in which no candidate could get 50 percent plus 1 vote required to be elected president.
Muizzu, who is the mayor of Male, was backed by former president Abdulla Yameen, widely acknowledged as a China lackey in the Indian Ocean country and the chief architect of the Indian Out campaign that seemed to have fired up the opposition.
Yameen is currently in jail on corruption charges but Muizzu has promised to expedite his release.The outcome of the Saturday runoff was a certainty to many as Solih trailed Muizzu by 7 percent votes in the first round on September 9. With Muizzu cornering 46 percent of the votes then, against Solih’s 39 percent, he only needed an additional 4 percent to win the runoff. The failure to check corruption, a lackadaisical approach to infrastructure projects and his differences with former president Mohamed Nasheed, who broke away from the ruling MDP to form his own party, seem to have caused Solih’s undoing.
Last minute efforts for a Solih-Nasheed patch up didn’t work out as Nasheed decided to back neither candidate in the runoff. The former president had told TOI on Thursday that he would not like to lose his credibility by backing Solih and that even if he supported him, the president was not going to win.
Muizzu had accused Solih of undermining the Maldives’ independence and sovereignty by seeking India’s endorsement for every decision he took. Soon after Solih took oath in 2018, India had announced assistance worth $ 1.4 billion for the Maldives and is currently implementing scores of community and development projects, including the flagship Greater Male connectivity project.
Muizzu has said his government won’t block work on projects that are in the interest of the people, but the defence and security partnership that had been consolidated in the past few years is likely to come under strain. As president, Yameen had asked India to remove its navy choppers and personnel from the Maldives and Muizzu has threatened to do the same. Muizzu, in fact, has also announced that the presence of foreign troops even for civilian purposes will not be tolerated.
The defence cooperation with the Maldives includes joint exercises, maritime domain awareness, gifting of hardware to Maldives and also infrastructure development. India is also helping the Maldives with a Coastal Radar System (CRS) and construction of new defence ministry headquarters.
How the pro- China group won
In a significant turn of events, the Maldives voted Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu to power, preferring him over the India-friendly incumbent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in last week’s presidential election run-off.It was not a simple contest between Solih’s Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) and the right-wing coalition of the People’s National Congress (PNC), which Muizzu belongs to, and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), whose leader, former President Abdulla Yameen, had been barred from contesting the general election after he was convicted and sentenced in a bribery and money laundering case during his stint in power during 2013-18.Shifting tidesMuizzu’s victory, with a decisive 54% of the vote, marked a clear departure from the inconclusive first round, underlining a strong anti-incumbency sentiment. This sentiment, fuelled by Yameen’s ‘India out’ campaign — aimed at limiting India’s influence in the country — played a pivotal role in shaping the narrative and ultimately deciding Solih’s fate.The change in the political landscape followed the first round of voting held on September 9. The people’s mandate failed to produce a clear winner, with no candidate securing the required 50% plus one vote for an outright victory.
At the centre of this drama was Muizzu, the mayor of capital city Male, who garnered significant attention due to his affiliation with Yameen, who is widely acknowledged as a key figure aligned with China in the Maldives.India is the Maldives’ biggest partner in almost everything — trade, military, geostrategy, culture and development. India has sent billions of dollars to the Maldives. But around a decade ago, with Chinese President Xi Jinping willing to expand communist footprints in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), the equation started to change. With the latest election results, India may be losing ground in the Maldives to China.How deeply is India invested?Military engagement is at the core of the India vs China debate. India and the Maldives frequently engage in joint military drills intending to share expertise in disaster management, maritime security, counterterrorism, cyber security, etc.India has gifted the Maldives helicopters for surveillance and keeping a watch on its borders. In his campaign, Muizzu raised the issue of the Indian troops’ deployment in the Maldives (Yameen had done the same during his earlier campaigns). Muizzu claimed that 75 Indian military personnel were deployed in the Maldives to operate the gifted helicopters.India has also been providing help to the Maldivian security apparatus by covering its maritime border under the Indian security surveillance grid. The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) coast guard uses equipment like fast-attack craft and Trinkat-class patrol vessels that India had gifted.
Last year, India gave a coastal radar system, with 10 radar stations, to the Maldives as a grant of $16mn to enhance the island nation’s security monitoring capabilities. These stations were networked to the Indian coastal security system.Earlier this year, when defence minister Rajnath Singh visited the Maldives, the construction of an Indian naval facility began on Uthuru Thila Falhu island as part of an agreement signed in 2021. India has extended a credit line of $50mn for defence projects.
How India stands to lose
The Opposition alliance sought votes from the people promising that if voted to power, the new government would remove Indian troops. This is an emotive issue for the Maldivian people.In his first speech after the victory, Muizzu reiterated his pledge to end foreign military presence. Even though he didn’t name India in his speech, it was obvious from his references.“We will be sending back military forces based in the Maldives according to law, and for sure we will do that accordingly,” Muizzu said on October 2. “The people who brought…military forces don’t want to send them back, but the people of the Maldives [have] decided.”On the China question, the 45-year-old said, “My top priority will be the Maldives. We will be choosing to be pro-Maldives. Any country that respects and obeys our pro-Maldives policy is considered a close friend of the Maldives.”
Muizzu dropped enough indications of how he would align Maldivian diplomacy. Within hours of his victory, Yameen, serving an 11-year jail sentence, was shifted from a high-security prison to house arrest, with supporters interpreting it as his virtual release from jail.Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first to congratulate Muizzu on October 1 soon after the election results came out. He said India is “committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship”.On October 3, Xi congratulated Muizzu with a pledge to deepen bilateral ties, a complementary promise to the one Muizzu had made to the Chinese Communist Party last year when he said his prospective win would “script a further chapter of strong ties between our two nations”.A look at the historyIndia and the Maldives had a common colonial ruler, Great Britain. India was among the first countries to recognise the Maldives as an independent country in 1965. In 1972, India opened its high commission in Male. China also opened its embassy in the same year.Ties between India and the Maldives deepened during the tenure of the second president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled from 1978 to 2008. During this period, India was the greatest benefactor of the Maldivian people — from helping Gayoom foil a coup attempt in 1988 to seeing the country’s transition to a multi-party constitutional democracy in 2008.
As part of its ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, India has spent billions on public infrastructure and housing projects in the Maldives. Maldives is one of the founding members of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), which is however losing its relevance. The two countries are also bound by the South Asia Free Trade Agreement (Safta).Currently, India is heavily investing in the Greater Male Project to construct a 6.7km sea-link bridge, connecting three highlands. India has sanctioned $100mn in grants to the Maldives. In August 2022, India also extended a $400mn line of credit to the country.The challengeThe challenge to India’s dominant position in the Maldives began with the victory of Yameen over Mohamed Nasheed — the MDP founder who defeated Gayoom in the first free and fair election in the country in 2008. Yameen had built his political capital largely on an anti-India plank going into the 2013 presidential election. He was backed by China, which has had diplomatic ties with the Maldives since 1972 but had been unable to make much headway.With Yameen’s victory, China got a foothold in the country and increased its investments. Today, China-sponsored projects dot the capital Male and its neighbouring island Hulhumale.
Chinese investments are in similar projects as India’s — sea-link bridges, government buildings, museums and housing projects. One key project is the $125mn Sinamale bridge that connects Male to Hulhule island, which has the country’s main Velana International Airport.So, where is the problem?The problem seems to be with Chinese money and its geostrategic ambition in the Indian Ocean Region, which India considers as its backyard. Though both India and China have invested heavily in the Maldives, it is the Chinese loans that are becoming a headache for the country’s economy and politics.The Maldives reportedly owes China $3.5bn — pushing its debt to 31% of its gross national income as of 2022. Yameen’s opponents have flagged the examples of Sri Lanka, cautioning him to be mindful of Chinese money.In 2019, Nasheed claimed in public that the Yameen government was allowing China to buy Maldivian islands for loans that the Maldives could not afford to repay. In his speeches, Nasheed put the Chinese government’s loans at $1.5bn, which go up to $3.5bn if private Chinese loans and sovereign guarantees are taken into account. This is a recipe for disaster.This has a contextDuring Gayoom’s long rule, the Maldives remained on the United Nations list of least-developed countries. But the same long rule also set the basis for Maldives’ progress under the successor Nasheed government, which came to power in 2008. Based on improved gross national income per capita and human asset index, the UN removed it from the list of least-developed countries from January 2011.This implied that international aid and concessional rates at which loans were flowing into the Maldives would dry up. This also meant that the Maldives needed more bilateral partners of investment to develop its infrastructure.But after Yameen came to power in 2013, there were serious allegations of human rights violations. This meant the principal benefactors of the Maldives — India and the US — looked reluctant to fund projects in the Maldives. Despite such concerns, India rushed help to the Maldives when it faced water shortages in 2014-15.
Yet, in 2014, the Yameen government put Maldives on China’s Belt & Road Initiative map. It also pushed for a free trade agreement (FTA) with China in 2017. Yameen’s Maldives and Xi’s China looked like natural partners as neither expressed concerns over human rights violations in each other’s countries.In 2018, Yameen invoked emergency provisions just ahead of the general election. India expressed concerns but Yameen said that India must not “interfere” in the affairs of Male.However, India’s concerns were echoed by Solih, who defeated Yameen in the election and resumed the country’s ‘India First’ policy.China and Yameen got further rattled as Solih withheld the ratification of the FTA with China. However, Muizzu is likely to follow through with this deal not long after he assumes office.
Muizzu’s party loses Male mayoral poll
Setback for Muizzu in Male mayoral poll
In a setback to Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, pro-India opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) on Saturday secured a landslide victory in the capital Male’s mayoral election. The MDP candidate, Adam Azim, has been elected as the new mayor of Male, a post held by Muizzu till recently. Muizzu resigned from the position to contest the presidential elections last year. PTI