The odds seem stacked against President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s re-election in the Maldives following his loss to pro-China candidate Mohamed Muizzu in the initial round of general elections. Muizzu secured 46 percent of the votes, with Solih trailing at 39 percent. However, since neither candidate received more than 50 percent of the votes, a runoff election is scheduled for September 30. While it’s theoretically possible for Solih to stage a comeback and defeat Muizzu in the runoff, Muizzu’s substantial lead in the first round makes him the frontrunner to secure over 50 percent of the votes and unseat Solih.
Solih’s presidency was marked by a shift towards an “India First” policy, strengthening ties with New Delhi while distancing from Beijing, reversing the previous administration’s pro-China stance from 2013 to 2018 under President Abdullah Yameen’s rule. However, Solih’s tenure also witnessed the formation of an alliance between China’s proxies, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by Yameen, and Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC). This united opposition coalition campaigned on reducing India’s influence in the Maldives, a strategy that appears to have paid off.
India, with its “Neighbourhood First” policy, had enjoyed significant influence in the strategically vital Maldives for five years. Yameen, under China’s influence, initiated an “India Out” campaign, accusing New Delhi of excessive dominance in various spheres. Muizzu, the opposition candidate backed by PPM, shares anti-India sentiments but takes a more nuanced approach to relations with New Delhi. Both candidates, however, lean towards China.
Despite the impending regime change potentially favoring Beijing, India should not panic. The best approach is for India to continue its investments, particularly in infrastructure projects, which will serve as a solid foundation. India should also allocate resources generously to support the Maldives.
In this geopolitical scenario, India should adopt a strategic approach akin to a cricket game. While batting provided a sense of power, intelligent fielding can be a game-changer. Additionally, India should maintain trust in the Maldivian people as the ultimate decision-makers.
India’s substantial financial commitments, including loans and infrastructure financing, will provide a significant cushion once Solih leaves office. After adopting an “India First” policy, the Maldives received a $1.4 billion financial package from India to help repay loans to China. India has also funded major projects such as the Thilamale bridge, which is the largest infrastructure project in Maldivian history. India’s investments include drinking water and drainage systems, educational and healthcare facilities, sports stadiums, port development, and airport upgrades. India’s robust financial support, totaling $3 billion, will continue to yield dividends if managed prudently in the post-Solih era without unnecessary confrontations. Additionally, differences between Muizzu and Yameen regarding India may provide a buffer for India’s interests.