Resetting the Rudder

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In early August, the supreme court of the Maldives, the archipelago nation off India’s southwest coast, ruled that ex-President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom could not take up his former job again because of his conviction on corruption and money laundering charges while in office between 2013 and 2018.

As Reuters explained, the ruling was a blow to the Progressive Party of Maldives, who nominated Gayoom before a court found him guilty late last year. Gayoom is now serving an 11-year prison sentence. The Progressives duly nominated Mohamed Muiz, the mayor of the capital of Malé, instead.

That wasn’t the only sign of splintering and factionalism in the country. Incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih faces several challengers before Maldivian voters elect a new head of state on Sept. 9, reported the Associated Press. At the same time, Solih has clashed with his one-time ally, former President Mohamed Nasheed, who broke away from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party and created a new organization, the Democrats, which has put forward the lawmaker Ilyas Labeeb as its nominee to run for president.

Among the other candidates are two former cabinet ministers, billionaire Qasim Ibrahim, and Faris Maumoon, the son of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for 30 years until multiparty presidential elections took place in 2008. (Yameen Abdul Gayoom is Maumoon Gayoom’s half-brother.)

The election is about much more than its candidates, however. The Maldives is currently torn between forging closer ties with either China or India, two regional powers that want the strategically located islands in the Indian Ocean to aid their economic and military interests.

Solih and other allies of the ruling party are close to India. He also expanded defense ties with Australia and the United States, Athaulla Rasheed, a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University, noted in East Asia Forum. Yameen Abdul Gayoom and other opposition figures want to leverage Chinese connections to reduce Indian influence in the country, added Stratfor, a think tank.

When Yameen Abdul Gayoom was president, China financed major projects in the country, including a bridge connecting the capital with the country’s international airport, reported Nikkei Asia. Under Solih, India has given the Maldives $2.7 billion in loans and assistance.

It might be a mistake to think that competition between the global powers is driving politics in the Maldives, argued the Interpreter, a publication of the Australian think tank the Lowy Institute. In the 1880s, for example, the Maldives negotiated an agreement with the United Kingdom that ensured British protection but retained the country’s national sovereignty.

Even so, the next leader will likely set the direction of foreign policy for the coming years.

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