Rift in the ruling political party of Maldives must worry India

President Solih retains the ticket for the next presidential candidate. However, Nasheed maintains distance. If it continues, the Pro-Chinese opposition alliance, which is quite frail, may take advantage

Surinder Singh Oberoi
New Update
Ibrahim mohamed solih Narendra Modi Maldives

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with Narendra Modi (File photo)

New Delhi: Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), yesterday, presented its presidential ticket for the upcoming presidential election in September 2023 to the party's presidential candidate, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

The opposition party, Maldives National Party (MNP), still maintains that former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom will be their candidate, even though he is in jail and barred from fighting polls.

The opposition in different pre-election gatherings are demanding that the imprisonment of the opposition coalition's presidential candidate, Yameen, should end and he should be allowed to participate in the polls.

Rift in the ruling political party of Maldives

Meanwhile, a new worry in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is emerging. Parliament Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and his supporters boycotted the ceremony held to hand over the main ruling party's presidential ticket to its presidential candidate, President Solih.

The ruling MDP remains divided, thus worrying several political observers that if their divisive policy continues, it may give an advantage to the opposition. The presidential election 2023 will be held on September 9, 2023. A second round, if necessary, will be held on September 30.

While he conceded defeat to President Solih, Nasheed refused to back him in the upcoming presidential election. Nasheed and his supporters have advocated forming a new party wing called 'Fikuregge Dhirun.'

Nasheed said he would decide to support the President based on the opinion of the members of a separate political branch within the MDP he is working on forming.

Nasheed's faction also boycotted the meeting of MDP's National Council, which was held to vote on authorizing President Solih to form coalitions on behalf of the party.

Regional and global powers are watching the development. They are indirectly involved in the polls as the Maldives has gained strategic importance owing to its central location in the Indian Ocean as crucial international shipping lanes in the heart of the Indian Ocean pass through the Maldives.

Maldives is already facing several challenges to maintaining democratic development and its long-term stability, including growing economic difficulties stemming from Maldives' vulnerability to substantial debt, corruption, climate change; extremism and the threat of terrorism.

Nazim, Vice President of the opposition MNP, may be the candidate for the President if Abdullah Yameen is not allowed by the court to participate in the poll. Meanwhile, in public rallies, the opposition continues demanding that Yameen be freed and allowed to compete in the presidential election.

China lifts visa restrictions for Maldivians

Meanwhile, just six months ahead of the Maldivian elections, the Chinese government has given visa exemption to Maldivians travelling to China. Equally, Chinese travellers arriving in Maldives will also be granted a 30-day on-arrival visa.

The Chinese Embassy in the Maldives announced the agreement's entry into force. As part of this agreement, the Chinese will be granted an on-arrival visa valid for 30 days upon their arrival in Maldives and vice versa.

India perceives China's growing presence as encroaching into its traditional sphere of influence

Regarding the Maldives, both India and China seek to influence their politics. India's neighbourhood first policy wants to maintain its relations with the Maldives and other South Asian countries. India also wants to prevent China from building their strength or naval bases surrounding the Indian Ocean.

China, meanwhile, continues to expand its presence in the Indian Ocean and advance its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Maritime Silk Road (MSR).

India presently has invested a lot of money in financing the Greater Male Connectivity Project; several MOUs have been signed between the two countries in developing infrastructure, education, health and several other business projects.

It is vital that the current government of Maldives needs to win

Solih's win in the 2023 presidential election is advantageous for India. Victory means the Maldives will likely continue its recent course of solidifying ties with India. At the same time, the Solih administration maintains its relationship with Beijing but does not necessarily want to expand its projects with China for fear of debt.

Nasheed opposes closer relations with China and has publicly spoken on the issue, saying that China might lead the Maldives into a "debt trap", quoting Sri Lanka's experience.

If Nasheed and Solih remain estranged, the internal party rift ahead of the elections may further widen, and the advantage goes to the opposition.

And if Yameen's political party returns to power, it would represent a significant setback for India. The Yameen administration will draw closer to China, immediately ratifying the Sino-Maldives Free Trade Agreement and further increasing commercial cooperation. Thus, China would be positioned to implement its BRI and MSR projects and expand its Indian Ocean presence.