Diplomacy Opinion Politics

Lessons from the Maldives presidential election

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the president-elect of the Maldives interacts with his supporters during a gathering in Male, Maldives AP

Two important inferences can be drawn from the result of the presidential election in the Maldives. First, the idea of the strong man, even though a number of nations, including India, have elected such figures to prominence, remains an anathema to the spirit of democracy. Equally, political status quo — this is the second message that tiny Maldives has given to the world — is also inimical to the health of a democratic polity. That is the reason why democracy has been looked upon as a harbinger of meaningful change around the world. Change has not left Male untouched. In a surprising but welcome development, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the candidate of a united Opposition, has wrested the sceptre back from Abdulla Yameen who had, over the years, acquired an authoritarian persona.

The run-up to the presidential polls allegedly bore the stamp of the excesses perpetrated under Mr Yameen’s watch. A state of Emergency had been in place, earning the Maldives international scrutiny. The European Union had even threatened to impose a series of sanctions to protest against rights violations in the island nation. Nonetheless, several Opposition leaders had been incarcerated and institutions considered to be the vanguard of democracy — New India would perhaps relate to this phenomenon — had also been eroded. It will not be an exaggeration to suggest that the people of the Maldives have now spoken on Mr Yameen’s policies and vision.

Mr Solih, however, has his task cut out. One of his priorities must be to ensure the return of peace and stability to his nation. In recent times, the internal rifts suffered by the Maldives have, in turn, affected the equilibrium in the Indian Ocean region. Mr Solih’s triumph would also help New Delhi breathe easy. After all, Mr Solih’s predecessor had shown a marked inclination towards Beijing which remains an influential player. India’s goals are thus two-fold. Given its historical ties with the Maldives, it should help Male’s efforts to reclaim the democratic ethos. Additionally, New Delhi must also neutralize China’s imprint that had deepened during Mr Yameen’s tenure. This would be possible if the Bharatiya Janata Party prioritizes, for once, credibility over force. Positioning India as a reliable and lucrative trade partner may help New Delhi tilt the scales in its favour, once again.

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