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Amid Lok Sabha Polls, The Other Election India Is Watching Closely




Amid Lok Sabha Polls, The Other Election India Is Watching Closely

Mohamed Muizzu votes in the Maldives parliamentary election. PTI

The Lok Sabha polls have begun. While the ruling BJP is going all-out to secure its return, the INDIA Opposition bloc is determined to stop it. But there is another election in the neighbourhood that India is watching closely — the parliamentary polls in The Maldives.

Over 2.8 lakh people are voting today to elect 93 members of the Maldivian parliament – known as Majlis — for a five-year term. This election, it must be pointed out, is not to elect the President. Mohamed Muizzu, whose anti-India stance and outreach to China has made international headlines, will continue to be in the top post, irrespective of the results in the national election. But, the results will determine if he gets the political muscle to push forward policies.

Why Maldives Election Is Important

President Muizzu came to power in the elections for the top post last year. But his party, the People’s National Congress, is part of an alliance that is in a minority in the 93-member House. The Maldivian Democratic Party, led by Muizzu’s pro-India predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih dominates the Majlis with 41 members. The lack of parliamentary majority has blocked Muizzu’s policy plans, with members of the Opposition flagging his anti-India position. A senior aide of Muizzu has told news agency AFP that “geopolitics is very much in the background” in this election. “He came to power on a promise to send back Indian troops and he is working on it. The parliament has not been cooperating with him.”

India, China Watch Result

Shortly after coming to power, Muizzu pressed for the exit of a small group of Indian soldiers stationed in the island nation for humanitarian activities. He also visited China and met Chinese president Xi Jinping. On his return, he said, “We may be small, but this doesn’t give them the licence to bully us.” While he did not name any country, the remark was seen as a swipe at India.

Last month, however, Muizzu appeared to be extending an olive branch, when he acknowledged India’s financial support to Male and said “India will continue to remain the Maldives’ closest ally”. At the close of last year, the Maldives owes India around $400.9 million.

India has so far adopted a restrained approach and downplayed the strained ties. Asked about New Delhi-Male relations after Muizzu’s election, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar had said neighbours need each other. “History and geography are very powerful forces. There is no escape from that,” he had said.

Beijing, which stepped up aid to the Maldives significantly and inked several pacts for infrastructure projects after Muizzu came to power, is also watching the Maldives election closely against the backdrop of its Indian Ocean push and Male’s strategic significance.

What Is Maldives’ Mood

Speaking to NDTV, Maldivian journalist Ahmed Aaidh described Muizzu’s public perception as “mixed”. “I don’t see any of the parties getting a majority. It’s going to be very tight, maybe 50-50,” he said. A major factor that may prevent any party from getting a clear majority in the House is splits in all the major political forces, including Muizzu’s People’s National Congress.

On whether Muizzu’s pro-China policy will hurt his party in the polls, former ambassador and Indian Foreign Service officer Rajiv Bhatia said, “When the presidential elections took place, Muizzu’s party won. This was followed by the mayoral election that his party lost. This is the final stage of the political match. My perception is that while the Maldives’ equation with India and China is a major issue, local issues such as public welfare, education, health, transport and inflation, will also matter.”

Mr Aaidh said that while Muizzu had claimed during this presidential polls campaign that he wouldn’t tilt towards any country. “But several major projects have been given to Chinese companies. So questions are being asked if there is corruption involved. We are going to polls in the middle of this scandal.”

Results of the election in the Maldives are likely to be clear late today.  

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