The beautiful archipelago of Maldives, famous for its turquoise waters and white sandy beaches, is now at the center of a geopolitical and internal political feud. With India and China closely involved, the Maldives presidential election has attracted more international attention than ever before.
Surprising preliminary results
In an interesting electoral process, Male's charismatic mayor Mohammed Muizzu secured a surprising 46% of the votes. Contrary to the expectations of many political analysts, incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih trailed with 39%. With no candidate able to cross the crucial 50% mark, the stage is set for an exciting vote.
Muizu's strategy and past alliances
Muizzu, 45, has promised to change the foreign policy landscape of Maldives. His proposal to reduce India's influence, especially the Indian military presence, has gained him significant support. In 2013–2018, his party, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), steered the country towards China, adopting the Belt and Road Initiative and securing millions for infrastructure efforts.
Solih's reign and pro-India stance
President Solih, who won in 2018 amid PPM controversies, has turned the Maldives back towards India. His tenure saw the beginning of the "India-first" policy, which secured funding from New Delhi for infrastructure projects such as housing and bridges in the Malé region.
Challenge ahead for Solih
Despite leading in the polls, President Solih has faced internal party strife, low voter turnout and unresolved corruption concerns. It appears that the infighting within the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and his fight against corruption have tarnished his popularity.
The much-awaited fight between Muizzu and Solih is scheduled for September 30. While Muizzu expresses optimism about achieving independence and strengthening the economy, Solih remains committed to forming coalitions, particularly with the contenders who placed second and third in the election.
Third place and the role of Elias Labib
Elias Labib, with 7% of the votes, formerly of Solih's MDP, now represents the Democrats. Established by former President Mohammed Nasheed, who has had differences with Solih, the position makes Nasheed an interesting figure in electoral dynamics.
Former Foreign Minister of Maldives Ahmed Shaheed says that Nasheed has emerged as a potential kingmaker. Their support depending on governance reforms and policy adjustments could tip the balance. Additionally, mobilizing non-voters will be important in the elections.
Voting Percentage: Eye Opener
The Election Commission reported 75% voter turnout among the 282,395 eligible persons, the lowest in the history of Maldivian presidential elections. Noted academician Azim Zaheer believes that this decline may indicate growing disillusionment among the youth towards the existing parties.
Many Maldivian citizens expressed displeasure at President Solih's inability to address corruption and ensure justice for violent incidents that occurred under his predecessor. The candid views of former MLAs like Ibrahim Ismail were seen on social media platforms, indicating public fatigue and repeated disappointment with his leadership.
The Maldives' 2023 elections are more than just a domestic political event. This is a testament to the complex balance of power, both within the country and in the wider Indian Ocean region. As Maldives stands at this crossroads, the world watches with bated breath.