Maldives election: Is victory of Muizzu’s party a vote against India?

Pro-China Maldivian President Mohamed Muizzu’s party has won an absolute majority in the elections in the Maldives in what is seen as a setback for India. However, experts do not believe this to be an anti-India vote and New Delhi has lost all leverage in the island nation.

Experts, though, caution that the victory of Muizzu’s party — the People’s National Congress — by bagging 66 of the 86 declared seats might end up embolding radical Islamist elements in the archipelago.

People saw the victory of Muizzu’s PNC as an anti-India vote because he himself won the presidential election in September 2023 on an ‘India Out’ campaign and has been pushing to get a handful of Indian soldiers stationed in the country back to India.

Muizzu is pro-China in his policies and has tried to lessen the country’s dependence on neighbour India. From domestic to international media, everyone read the parliamentary election results in the Maldives as a setback for India.

Experts IndiaToday.In spoke to do not believe that the election was a victory of anti-India sentiments.

“I do not think that the vote for President Mohamed Muizzu’s PNC is in any way a vote against India. Foreign policy does decide to an extent, but it is the domestic policies that generally determine who people vote for,” says Smruti Pattnaik, a research fellow at Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).

“The current Parliament was obstructing the appointment of three ministers that President Mohamed Muizzu wanted. The people must have wanted to give the President a bigger mandate to carry out the changes he wants to,” says Smruti Pattnaik.

President Mohamed Muizzu urged voters to give him a majority in Parliament to enable him to swiftly implement his campaign promises. The outgoing Maldivian Parliament had blocked the nomination of three of Muizzu’s nominees to the Cabinet.

Gulbin Sultana, an associate fellow with the South Asia Centre at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (MP-IDSA) says that the absolute majority for the People’s National Congress was more to strengthen Muizzu’s hands.

“The Maldivians haven’t voted only on foreign policy, so we can’t say that it was a vote against India. People were disillusioned with the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP’s) performance during the previous Ibrahim Solih administration, and voters probably wanted to provide President Muizzu a chance to deliver on his election promises by giving an absolute majority to the ruling party,” Gulbin Sultana tells IndiaToda.In.

While Muizzu and the PNC are pro-China, the MDP leans towards India.

MUIZZU AND HIS ‘INDIA OUT’ CAMPAIGN

“In the past six-seven months, President Muizzu has been able to deliver on his promises vis a vis the stationing of Indian military personnel in the Maldives is concerned,” says Smruti Pattanaik.

Muizzu has called China “One of the closest allies and developmental partners of the Maldives”. This was also the first time that a Maldivian president skipped India as the first port of call after being elected.

Muizzu has also set a May 10 deadline for the withdrawal of 89 Indian troops and support staff from the Maldives. Reports said that India had replaced the military personnel, tasked with flying ana maintaining two helicopters and a plane, with civilian staff.

This insistence of Muizzu on troop withdrawal, a vital campaign promise, strained bilateral ties.

INDIA CONTINUES AID AND INVESTMENT IN MALDIVES

However, the Maldives, an import-dependent nation, relies heavily on India.

“As far as India is concerned, it has continued with aid for the Maldives, irrespective of the ‘India Out’ campaign, showcasing that it is historically with the Maldivian people that the Indian government has ties with,” Smruti Pattnaik tells IndiaToday.In.

In fact, India spent around Rs 7.71 billion ($93 million), or almost twice its budgeted 4 billion, on projects in the Maldives in 2023-2024.

INCREASING ISLAMIC RADICALISATION IN THE MALDIVES

One thing that experts have been cautioning about is the spread of Islamic radicalisation in the archipelago nation.

Muizzu’s leadership in the Maldives coincides with growing concerns about Muslim radicalisation. Muizzu’s policies may reflect an attempt to reshape ideological leverage,” Lt Gen Syed Ata Hasnain (Retd), a strategic and military expert, had told IndiaToday.In earlier.

Under Muizzu’s party predecessor, Abdulah Yameen, between 2013 and 2018, “the Maldives topped global per capita figures for fighters (200) going to Syria to join the Islamic State (IS)”, according to a Lory Institute’s 2022 report.

That policy of tolerance towards militancy and radicalisation might continue in the Maldives.

“Given the experience, the victory of Muizzu’s PNC might increase radicalisation and violent extremism in the Maldives. Muizzu, during the presidential election, had interlinked nationalism, language and Islam,” Gulbin Sultana tells IndiaToday.In.

“On several fronts, Muizzu might not take action against growing radicalisation. In the last five years too, not much effective action was taken on radicalisation by the Maldivian government,” says the Maldives watcher.

MALDIVES AIMS TO REVIEW INTERNATIONAL PROJECTS

What is also at risk for India are several projects in the Maldives. The Maldivian government promised to review several international projects, including thos of India, and this absolute majority in Parliament gives it the strength to do so.

“The Maldivian governmnet wants to review several projects, not just the ones with India. So, with the PNC getting an absolute majority, it will be easy for President Muizzu to get Parliamentary approval to execute his policy decisions,” says Gulbin Sultana.

However, she cautions that it would not be proper to say that India has lost all its hold and leverage in the Maldives “because of the Maldives’ economic situation and the debt burden”.

“Muizzu has been approaching Thailand and Turkey other than China, but how much can he rely on these countries? So, Muizzu will have to take a more pragmatic approach to lessening dependence on India,” she says. “India, too, should see how it can maintain the leverage and not take any knee-jerk reaction,” she adds.

While the absolute majority of Muizzu’s PNC is a setback for India, it can’t be considered a vote against India. However, India needs to be watchful of the growing radicalisation in the Maldives.

Published By:

Sushim Mukul

Published On:

Apr 22, 2024

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