Pro-China president Mohamed Muizzu’s coalition wins Maldives parliamentary elections | World News - Hindustan Times

Pro-China president Mohamed Muizzu’s coalition wins Maldives parliamentary elections

Apr 22, 2024 08:05 PM IST

The outcome of the election reflected public support for Muizzu’s moves for closer security and economic cooperation with China

NEW DELHI: Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s ruling coalition scored a landslide victory in Sunday’s parliamentary election, securing an absolute majority in Parliament as voters endorsed his government’s policy to align the Indian Ocean archipelago more closely with China.

Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (centre) along with his supporters in Male. (AFP Photo)
Maldives' President Mohamed Muizzu (centre) along with his supporters in Male. (AFP Photo)

The election result could further strain relations between the Maldives and India, already at a low over Muizzu’s efforts to reduce his country’s dependence on New Delhi in areas ranging from defence to food security and healthcare.

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Results declared by the Maldives’ Elections Commission and reports by the local media showed Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) party and its allies, Maldives National Party (MNP) and Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), would have more than 70 seats or a “super majority” in the 93-member People’s Majlis or Parliament.

The victory will strengthen Muizzu’s grip on power and allow his government to push through several China-funded projects without being stymied by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which had a majority in the outgoing Parliament and blocked several of the president’s decisions.

The MDP, which lost last year’s presidential election and followed an “India First” policy, won less than a dozen seats – fewer than a fifth of the 65 seats it held in the outgoing Parliament. More than 284,000 voters were eligible to participate in the polls, and officials put the turnout at more than 75%.

Muizzu is now expected to go ahead with several Beijing-backed projects, including an artificial island with 30,000 apartments, fish factories and a new airport, that had been held up by the opposition. China said on Monday it will work to strengthen relations with the Maldives and expand cooperation in different fields.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Beijing aims to “continuously deepen the China-Maldives comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership” forged during Muizzu’s first foreign visit to China in January.

There was no immediate response from the Indian government on the election, though policymakers in New Delhi have viewed Muizzu’s efforts to shift the Maldives closer to China with growing concern.

Muizzu projected the parliamentary election as a referendum on his government’s policies, with the PNC asking voters to elect a majority so that the government could swiftly fulfil his presidential campaign pledges, including a move to send back Indian military personnel deployed in the Maldives to operate two helicopters and an aircraft.

The election outcome also reflected public support for Muizzu’s moves for closer security and economic cooperation with China. Amid campaigning for the election, Muizzu awarded projects worth more than $250 million to Chinese state-run firms.

Since coming to power last year, Muizzu has sought to move the Maldives away from its longstanding ties with India. He has taken steps to lessen the archipelago’s dependence on India for food security and healthcare, including signing contracts with Turkiye and other countries for supplying food items and pharmaceutical products.

Muizzu’s government acquired drones from Turkiye for surveillance of the country’s exclusive economic zone, effectively reducing dependence on India in this crucial area. It also finalised an arrangement with Sri Lanka for emergency medical evacuations.

More than 80 Indian military personnel were stationed in the Maldives to operate the helicopters and aircraft used mainly for humanitarian relief operations and medical evacuations and two batches were withdrawn in March and April. All the military personnel are set to leave by May 10 and will be replaced by civilian experts.

India and China have wooed the Maldives to project influence across the Indian Ocean. Both countries have poured billions of dollars into major infrastructure and housing projects in the Maldives in recent years.

Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy, an associate fellow with Observer Research Foundation (ORF), said the election has strengthened Muizzu’s position domestically. “It has given him a greater mandate to continue with his proposals and projects, which are usually backed by the Chinese. Newly proposed investments and areas of cooperation that might need parliamentary backing can proceed without much opposition,” he said.

Shivamurthy said the outcome could also be a “two-edged sword for India”. He added: “This majority has secured Muizzu from his biggest threat and it means he can reduce his anti-Indian rhetoric and policy. On the other hand, the sheer majority might bolden his policy towards India and continue reducing the country’s dependency without much domestic pressure.”

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