Massive India-China Battle in Maldives Over Presidential Elections

The Maldives will hold elections soon, but the real battle would be fought between India and China. Will the Maldives revert back to the authoritarian government backed by China or will India backed democracy prevail again? EurAsian Times analyses an article from the Guardian.

Opposition parties have formed a joint front to remove the president, Abdulla Yameen, whose government has been blamed for crushing dissent, corruption and imprisoning opponents on fallacious grounds. Yameen is exhibiting himself as a Maldivian nationalist focused on economic development, pointing to infrastructure projects built during his term, including a bridge linking Malé to the international airport that opened recently.

Many of these projects have been funded by an estimated $1.3bn in loans from China, a debt equal to more than one-quarter of the Maldivian GDP, and which western diplomats are concerned will leave the island nation vulnerable to Chinese authority.

Campaigning has been muted in the capital, Malé, with opposition forces permitted to hold just a single political rally. Limited political signage is on display in the city other than the banners of Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives.

The opposition claims the rules for counting Sunday’s votes were abruptly changed this week, including to deny poll observers the chance to scrutinise individual ballots, making it harder to detect vote rigging. Officials from the state-controlled election commission have denied the changes will affect the counting process.

Yameen, 59, has also been accused of trying to cow Raajje TV, the only opposition-aligned television channel, which was fined the equivalent of nearly $130,000 for broadcasting a “defamatory” speech from an opposition rally.

he opposition coalition has nominated a senior MP, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, to run against Yameen on a platform of restoring democracy, tackling corruption and improving relations with the west.

Though it is best known for its high-end tourist resorts, several major global faultlines run through the Maldives, giving the country of fewer than 500,000 people an outsized political prominence.

It is a poster child for the fight against climate change, with rising sea levels threatening many of its 1,200 atolls. Its strategic location has made it a key arena in the contest for regional influence between India and China. It has also emerged as an incubator for jihadism: a greater proportion of Maldivians have joined Isis than any country but Tunisia.

These issues have played out alongside an uneasy democratic experiment starting in 2008, when Mohammad Nasheed became the country’s first freely elected president after 30 years of authoritarian rule.

Nasheed, 51, was forced to quit his office in 2012 in what supporters regard as a coup, and was narrowly defeated by Yameen in a presidential poll the following year. He was convicted of terrorism in a dubious trial in 2015 and now lives in exile in Sri Lanka.

Rights groups say Yameen has gradually eroded checks on his power throughout his five-year term, most prominently in February, when he declared a 45-day state of emergency in response to a supreme court decision quashing the convictions of nine opposition leaders. Police arrested two of the judges along with the country’s former ruler and a supreme court administrator, charging all four under terrorism laws.

The supreme court, reduced to three judges after the arrests, later overturned the decision to exonerate the opposition leaders. Yameen has brushed off concerns he is abusing his power. “If the accusations about authoritarianism are true, when I go to islands, the people will tell me ‘we are tolerating so much abuse’,” he said on the campaign trail this month. “I won’t see smiles on the faces. No one will come to greet me and shake my hand if there is tyranny.” The US warned earlier in September it could apply sanctions against anyone seen to be impeding “free and fair” elections in the country. The European Union issued similar threats in July.

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