The Maldives may be a small nation, but its electoral process is proving to be a big headache. The Maldivian Supreme Court has intervened yet again to delay the third round of the island's general elections for the third time and to take the poll right to the edge of the constitutional cutoff date of November 16.
After this date, any elected government, irrespective of the size of its electoral majority, would be legally suspect. India's challenge is to ensure these elections are held under the constitutional framework.
It is a sign of India's growing confidence of its relations with its smaller neighbours that New Delhi has graduated from assuming that at least one major political player in each country will be hostile to India to seeing the possibility of having all political players in a country treating India as the primus inter pares among foreign nations. As part of this policy, New Delhi has focussed on ensuring these countries have viable democratic regimes, with non-partisan electoral institutions.
However, establishing a democratic culture in a society used to diktats and prisons, like the Maldives of the past, is easier said than done. The Maldives, where the concept of the loyal opposition has yet to take root and politics is intensely personalised, is a case in point. The judiciary is largely composed of appointees of the previous dictator AY Gayoom and seems determined to delay events until Gayoom's brother has stitched together a winning coalition.
India is rightfully seeking to enforce the parameters of genuine democracy rather than influencing the results. In the long run, this is the best way to create a sentiment in favour of India among the people of its immediate neighbours. India is not in a position to match the deep pockets or military largesse of its strategic rivals in Asia, so it must play on its political strengths and the depth of its civil society. However, this policy also requires India to be perceived to have been successful in promoting such values - which is why firmly insisting on the constitutional deadline is the right path to take.