Diplomacy Opinion Politics

Mohamed Nasheed: In a sense, we now need to buy back our sovereignty from China

After returning to the Maldives from exile, and receiving an acquittal on cases against him, former President Mohamed Nasheed is now eyeing a return to active politics by standing for Parliamentary elections due on April 6. On a visit to India, where he met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Mr. Nasheed told The Hindu about his hopes that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) he leads will work closely with India, and rejects claims on the debt to China.

This is your first visit to India since the elections and the MDP government has already made several moves to better ties with India, including the recent visa agreement. Where does the potential now lie?

We must keep working on bringing our countries closer. India is assisting the Maldives on a number of development projects.

There is a need for the Maldives to do a lot of work on facilitating these projects.

Also on our security, for which we completely rely on India, so we must improve our security relationship.

However, in the past two years, former President Yameen asked India to take back its helicopters, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) received the Pakistan Army Chief and Navy chief to discuss joint exercises, and Chinese warships came in to dock in Male harbour. Are you confident that these moves have been reversed?

I think they have been clearly reversed. We have a government that is very focussed on the direction they want to take in foreign policy with all countries.

We feel that unless we have good relations with India, we will not be able to build the kind of society we want.

In comparison, China is not as comfortable with our ideas of democracy, and so it is not natural for our government to work as closely with that country. So I think the security ties haven’t just been reversed, they have been done so permanently.

You are at present campaigning for the parliamentary elections, and you are standing for Parliament as well. How do you see the MDP’s chances?

I think our chances are very good.

Even if we were to knock off 15%-20% of the vote we received in the presidential elections, since we were then a united Opposition, we would find ourselves winning a number of constituencies.

The MDP has been increasing in seats, but more importantly, we have a major increase in the number of members in our party, and that will make it a done deal.

You have spoken in the past of moving the Maldives to a Parliamentary system, where the Prime Minister, not the President, would have power. Are you still committed to that?

Well, both the President [Ibrahim Solih] and I have had the view that the parliamentary system is more appropriate for the Maldives.

But I would leave that up to him. I have no intention of making it difficult for President Solih in any way. It is not in my interest to do so: let’s remember, each time the government falls, I have faced the brunt of it.

It is I who got arrested, I got put in jail, my children had to go abroad to study as it wasn’t safe for them. I think we need stability most of all, and I want to make sure our children don’t face what we faced.

Once you are elected, there is bound to be even more speculation about dual power centres between you and President Solih…

Well, our Constitution is constructed so as to give Parliamentary oversight over everything.

When I was President, Mr. Solih was looking after the party in Parliament, and I think the least I can do is to look after the party in Parliament for him, and ensure he gets all the support. We go too far back with each other, we have even looked after each other’s families. So we don’t have problems, regardless of any political speculation.

How is the MDP government tackling Maldives’ Chinese debt problem?

We are auditing to see just how much actually came in [from China]. And where that money went.

We are unable to find equivalent assets for some of the money and we will explain to the nation how [former President] Yameen had sold the country to China. In a sense, we now need to buy back our sovereignty from China. I hope it is understood that we can’t pay what didn’t come our way. We will give the pound of flesh, but not a single drop of blood.

Will you then ask other countries for help with your debt that is, by some accounts, more than $3 billion?

Look, we can pay back for the assets created on the basis of the money that has already come, and we don’t anticipate a debt repayment crisis on that. Our GDP is $5 billion, we are just about half a million people, and our per capita is about $15,000.

So we do have resources, but not to pay for what we didn’t receive, which is the figure of $3.4 billion being spoken about.

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