Mint Explainer: Pro-China Muizzu wins in Maldives. What does it mean for India?

Pro-China frontrunner Mohamed Muizzu won the presidential vote in the Maldives. (Photo: AFP)
Pro-China frontrunner Mohamed Muizzu won the presidential vote in the Maldives. (Photo: AFP)


  • Solih, who championed an India First policy during his tenure, will remain as president until Muizzu's takes over on 17 November

Pro-Beijing leader Mohamed Muizzu has won the Maldives presidential election, beating incumbent president Ibrahim Solih in the second-round of the contest. This shift may raise alarms in New Delhi, apprehensive of China's growing influence in the traditionally Indian-aligned Maldives. Mint delves into the implications.

Key players

Outgoing president Ibrahim Solih heads the Maldivian Democratic Party while his challenger, president-elect Mohamed Muizzu, led a group of opposition parties. Solih, who has been in office since 2018, was seeking re-election. However, Muizzu won a run-off election with just over 54% of the vote. 

Prior to running for the presidency, Muizzu served as mayor of Male, the national capital. He was also a cabinet minister under former president Abdulla Yameen, whose tenure saw an uptick in tensions between India and the Maldives.

What is at stake for India?

Strategically located in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives' partnership is vital to India's regional dominance, especially amid China's growing influence. Their strong defence relationship dates back decades, highlighted by India's intervention to prevent a 1988 coup. Additionally, India has invested heavily in Maldivian development and infrastructure.

Why Muizzu's win concerns India

Muizzu is considered a protege of Abdulla Yameen, who pushed for closer ties with China. Yameen signed a free trade agreement with Beijing and joined the controversial Belt and Road Initiative. Maldivian debt to China also rose during his time in office. 

He has had a tense relationship with India, which criticised him for his increasingly authoritarian style of governance. Yameen’s party also led the “India Out" campaign, which tried to drum up anti-India sentiment, questioning New Delhi's role. 

During the election, Muizzu expressed concerns about the presence of Indian troops in the Maldives and about development contracts awarded to Indian firms. India believes that Muizzu may look to build a closer relationship with China. 

“Fake news directed against India was one of the main ingredients in the first round of the campaign. Events in India, including the treatment of Indian minorities were massive propaganda points for the PPM. In fact, the communal violence in Manipur and the anti-Muslim rant of a BJP member of Parliament, Ramesh Bidhuri, were among the WhatsApp messages that was sent out to voters in Maldives," writes RK Radhakrishnan for Frontline.

What now?

It isn’t immediately clear what will happen. Some observers insist that Muizzu will remain sensitive to New Delhi’s concerns given its proximity to the Maldives. They say that Muizzu's victory is not a referendum on ties with India. They also argue against seeing a closer Maldivian relationship with China as a zero sum game. 

Others have expressed concerns about what might happen to India’s presence in the Indian ocean archipelago and the possibility of a greater Chinese role in the region.

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