Rifts and resignations shake Maldives' political landscape as split group of ruling political party and opposition unite

A victory for President Solih would likely continue the country's recent efforts to strengthen ties with India. Conversely, a return to power by Nasheed’s party would represent a setback for India and an opportunity for China

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Mohamed Nasheed (Left) with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (Right)

New Delhi: The newly formed Democrats political party of the dissidents led by Nasheed and the opposition coalition have joined forces in a new alliance ahead of the upcoming presidential elections in the Maldives, scheduled for September 9.

The alliance was formed after former President Mohamed Nasheed resigned from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week and joined the breakaway political party of the dissidents from the ruling party called the Democrats.

The Democrats, a newly formed political party, have been collaborating with the opposition coalition parties, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), and the People's National Congress (PNC). On June 24, the coalition held its inaugural meeting and decided to contest the Presidential poll in an alliance.

Are there going to be other individuals, political and religious parties joining the Opposition, is yet to be confirmed as hectic parleys are going on.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih currently maintains control of Parliament with the support of 52 MPs and has a good reputation amongst the population and the politicians. A no-confidence motion against speaker Nasheed was moved by 52 MPs forcing Nasheed to resign.  

Despite this alliance, both the Democrats (yet to be registered by the election commission) and the PPM will field separate presidential candidates. The PPM has put forward former President Abdulla Yameen as its candidate, although he is currently serving a jail sentence and his participation in the elections is uncertain pending a high court decision.

A local journalist said, “If Yameen doesn’t contest for obvious reasons, then chances of Nasheed as the opposition candidate becomes quite high even though it will be a difficult task for him.”

Nasheed is yet to announce his contest as the Democrats have yet to officially announce their candidate, but they have confirmed their intention to compete in the presidential race.

Yameen, who faces an 11-year prison sentence and a fine of $5 million for money laundering and bribery, has appealed his case to the Maldivian High Court.

The ruling MDP has faced multiple resignations, with the latest being Member of Parliament P Rasheed, who announced his departure on social media shortly after Nasheed's resignation. With Rasheed's resignation, the number of MDP lawmakers who have left the party has reached 15.

These defections occurred following a wave of MDP supporters, including lawmakers, defecting in May, leading to the formation of the new political party, the Democrats. Consequently, the upcoming presidential election in the Maldives is expected to be fiercely contested and politically charged.

The nomination of Yameen as the opposition coalition's candidate, despite his imprisonment and disqualification, underscores his influence, close ties to China and the indirect support he receives from the opposition members of the parliament or Majlis.  

China's influence in the Maldives, strategically positioned in the Indian Ocean and a vital hub for international shipping lanes, has raised concerns for India. India's "neighbourhood first" policy aims to maintain strong relations with the Maldives and other South Asian countries while countering China's expanding presence in the region.

Even though Nasheed has previously criticised China and is seen as close to India, with Solih and his party as India’s friends, chances are that Nasheed may change sides.  

It makes for a more interesting contest, as the outcome of the upcoming presidential election will significantly impact the strategic interests of both India and China.

A victory for President Solih and the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party would likely continue the country's recent efforts to strengthen ties with India. Conversely, a return to power by Yameen's party and now Nasheed’s party too would represent a setback for India and an opportunity for China to further expand its influence in the Maldives.

In addition to the external factors, the Maldives faces several internal challenges, including economic difficulties, corruption, climate change, extremism, and the threat of terrorism. These issues could complicate the country's pursuit of democratic development and long-term stability.

The complex and interconnected nature of regional and global politics is evident in the situation unfolding in the Maldives. Despite its relatively small population of around eight lakhs, the Maldives finds itself caught in the power struggle between major players such as the US, UK, Japan, Australia, India, and China, all of which have a keen interest in the strategic location of the country.

The division of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Mauritius and the Maldives, decided by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) has further added to the complexity of the political environment.

ITLOS concluded on April 28 that the conflicting Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) between Mauritius and the Maldives would be divided based on the equidistance formula. The Maldives gained 47,232 square kilometres of the disputed maritime territory, while Mauritius gained 45,331 square kilometres.

The opposition alliance argues that the Maldives are entitled to 95,563 square kilometres of disputed maritime territory.

As the nation prepares for the elections, the internal divisions and dissident groups forming the new political party and the rise of the opposition present a significant challenge for the government.

The stakes are high for India and China, both vying for influence in the Maldives, and the outcome of the election will shape the strategic landscape in the Indian Ocean region.

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