Maldives 2023 Elections: An Assessment From Indian Lens

1. Abstract

This research paper will navigate the intricate contours of the 2023 presidential elections that were held in Maldives, outlining the comprehensive assessment from the Indian lens. The assessment seeks to unravel the multifaceted factors that influence the political landscape of Maldives and its implications on India’s strategic calculus in the Indian Ocean region (IOR). The paper will delve into the internal dynamics of Maldivian political parties, highlighting their pro-China and Pro-India policy approach and unraveling the effect it had on the current electoral outcome which led to the victory and appointment of Dr Muizzu as the 8th president of Maldives.

Keywords: 2023 Presidential Elections, Maldives, Indian Ocean Region, Dr Muizzu, Pro-China, and Pro-India.

2. Introduction

The Maldives has become a battleground for the India and China rivalry, due to its geopolitical significance and strategic location as a toll of the Indian Ocean. The archipelago nation has garnered significant attention from the International and Indian authorities due to the crucial implications of the 2023 election outcome, which goes beyond the shores of Maldives and shapes the regional dynamics that will affect the diplomatic ties, economic collaboration, and the synergy in addressing the common security challenges from the perspective of India. The conclusion of the 2023 elections and the foreign policy of the newly elected Maldivian Government are under intense scrutiny as both India and China seek to advance their geopolitical agenda in the IOR, where India aims to strengthen its strategic partnership and promote maritime security against China’s growing influence over the small Asian countries.

3. Maldives Political Landscape 

In the Political arena of Maldives, the winds of change have sparked a never-ending struggle for power while the tides of uncertainty ebb and flow. The present Republic of Maldives has transitioned from a Sultanate empire to British suzerainty and a resultant tussle between the Republicans and the Sultanate. Both progress and challenges have marked Maldives’s political landscape to reach its result of a multi-party system. The advent of the multi-party system started in 2005, before that the country was ruled either under a single-party system or an individualistic struggle for power.

3.1. The Transition from Sultanate to Republic

Earlier Maldives followed a hierarchical political system, where the power was centralized with the Sultan (king).  Only the Sultan had a political right to rule the country sanctioned by Islamic law. Even with the advent of Britishers in Maldives, an agreement was signed between the two countries in the year 1887, where Maldives was declared as a British protectorate, refraining the Britishers from interfering with the internal administration of Maldives.

It is also pertinent to note that despite there being no formal view of organizing and forming a political party, Mohamed Amin Didi took the initiative of being the leader of the first political party in the Maldives known as the People’s Progress Party.  Mohamed Amin Didi became the first president of the Republican Maldives with the declaration of the constitutional referendum in 1952. Subsequently, the second and final Republican was established with the fifth Constitution in the year 1968 under the rule of President Ibrahim Nasir. Till this time there was no political party in the Maldives, however, the members of Majlis were elected based on universal suffrage.

3.2. Attempt for Democratization 

The road to democracy began with the economic development of Maldives under the presidential rule of Ibrahim Nasir, who was succeeded by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The Maldives was under the authoritarian rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for three decades under which the organisation of political parties was discouraged. However, in 2003, Gayoom was forced to introduce various political reforms including establishing a multi-party system. Interestingly before lifting the ban on political parties in the year 2005, Mohamed Nasheed, a democratic enthusiast founded an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) while being in exile in Sri Lanka.

3.3. The Transition towards Authoritarian Rule

The reign of Mohamed Nasheed from 2008 to 2012 was known for his progressive and reform-oriented ideology, unlike his past predecessors. Initially, during his tenure, Nasheed allowed freedom of opposition which became the downfall of his reign. Unlike Gaymoon’s republican tenure, Nasheed had to resign before completing his presidential tenure.

Nasheed’s forgive-and-forget policy made him lose people’s trust in him.  Furthermore, his proactive steps towards Islamic radicalization led to a backlash from the opposition political parties and members of the political administration who were loyal to Gayoom.

The judicial interference in the political arena became the major downfall of Nasheed’s reign and a means to bring Yameen’s autocratic rule to the political picture. Yameen not only tried to dominate the political arena through his despotic conduct but also tried to strangle the country’s judicial system. The time to test the democratic waters came in the year 2018, during which the next presidential elections had to be conducted. Interestingly the coalition parties that backed Yameen in the 2012 elections, supported his arch-rival Ibrahim Mohamed Solih a close ally of Nasheed. The term of Solih’s presidency was spent reversing the political, social, and economic blunders created by Yameen. However, in 2023 Solih peacefully handed over the presidential office to his successor Dr. Mohamed Muizzu who was backed by the PPM and PNC in the 2023 election.

3.4. Islamic Extremism

Islamic radicalization was already prevailing in Maldives even before Abdulla Yameen came to power. Abdulla Yameen used this as a tactic to raise allegations against the opposition for being non-Islamic and also started a campaign to remove Nasheed by starting a ‘defend Islam’ campaign.

It is pertinent to note that in 2008, a Maldivian was involved in the Mumbai terror attacks. Many Maldivians were recruited by Pakistan-based terror groups such as Lashkar e-Taiba (LeT) and al-Qaeda

In 2017, the strategic partnership between Maldives and Saudi Arabia resulted in Saudi Salafism penetrating the Maldivian society. The former president Mr. Nasheed even claimed that around 200 Maldivian citizens were sent to fight for IS in Syria.

Yameen during his tenure tried to fulfill one of his objectives from the manifesto i.e., to uphold Islam, and to do so, he started promoting Islamic unity domestically and internationally. Lastly, a political disruption can be seen when the extremist group backed by Yameen’s party during Solih’s presidency, stormed the yoga event which was organized by the Indian High Commission. The Adhaalath Party which was in coalition with Solih’s Government issued a research paper claiming yoga to have links with Hinduism and against the Islamic beliefs.

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Author: Hashneet Kaur