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Maldives Presidential Election of 2023 Alters Regional Dynamics and Foreign Policy Considerations

by Rahil M
0 comment

Muizzu’s pro-China orientation and his pledges to address trade imbalances between the Maldives and India have raised questions about the fate of Indian-funded projects and their influence in the Maldives.

The Maldives, an idyllic archipelago located in the Indian Ocean, has recently delivered an electoral verdict that reverberates across the region, reshaping foreign policy considerations for the nation. In a surprising outcome, Mohamed Muizzu, the opposition candidate, clinched victory in the presidential run-off, securing 54 per cent of the vote, effectively ousting incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

This electoral outcome effectively transformed into a de facto referendum on the Maldives’ foreign policy, particularly its relationships with regional powerhouses India and China. With India maintaining a military presence in the Maldives and supporting significant infrastructure projects, President Solih was perceived as pro-India. However, Muizzu, a candidate who advocates for closer ties with China, has signaled potential shifts in foreign policy that could have far-reaching implications in the Indian Ocean region.

One of the primary issues at the forefront of this election was the presence of Indian military personnel in the Maldives. The Maldives currently hosts 75 Indian military personnel, with New Delhi justifying this presence as necessary for the operation of helicopters and an aircraft donated to the country. Muizzu’s campaign, however, centered on the promise to withdraw these troops from the Maldives.

The election results have led analysts to speculate about the implications of Muizzu’s pro-China stance. Micheal Kugelman, the South Asia director at the Wilson Center, emphasized the significance of Muizzu’s campaign, which sought not only to strengthen ties with Beijing but also to challenge India by advocating for the removal of Indian military presence.

While India expressed its congratulations to the president-elect and its commitment to enhancing bilateral relations, concerns remain about the future of Indian influence in the Maldives. Under President Solih, India has invested significantly in the Maldives, providing financial support for infrastructure projects, and nurturing a robust partnership.

One of the ongoing projects, the Greater Male Connectivity Project, includes the construction of a 6.7km road to link the capital, Male, with the island of Villingili. India’s substantial financial contribution to this initiative underscores its dedication to fostering close ties with the Maldives.

However, Muizzu’s pro-China orientation and his pledges to address trade imbalances between the Maldives and India have raised questions about the fate of Indian-funded projects and their influence in the Maldives. China has also been a key player in the Maldives’ development, particularly during the tenure of former President Abdulla Yameen, another pro-China leader. Under Yameen’s leadership, the Maldives received over $1 billion in loans from China for various infrastructure projects, including housing developments and a groundbreaking bridge connecting the capital to nearby islands.

With Muizzu’s victory, China is expected to explore investment opportunities and potential collaboration with the Maldives. However, the extent of China’s engagement and its impact on the regional power dynamics remain uncertain. Although Muizzu leans towards China, the trade balance between the Maldives and India reveals a significant skew in India’s favour, underscoring the complexities of rebalancing foreign relations.

While Muizzu’s electoral success may be seen as a diplomatic and geopolitical setback for India, analysts believe that New Delhi will continue to seek a partnership with the Maldives and maintain its presence in the region. India and the Maldives share mutual interests, making it imperative for both nations to collaborate on various fronts, regardless of potential shifts in foreign policy. As Mohamed Muizzu prepares to assume office on November 17, the evolving dynamics in the Indian Ocean region are poised to impact the regional balance of power and influence.

Image Source: https://presidency.gov.mv/

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