Maldives: For Stability Delicate Political Nurturing by India Essential
India’s External Affairs Minister [EAM] Smt. Sushma Swaraj paid an official visit to the Maldives from 17-18 March 2019. Bilateral talks between the Foreign Ministers was followed by a joint ministerial meeting, in which EAM held discussions with FM Shahid, Minister of Defence Mariya Ahmed Didi, Minister of Finance Ibrahim Ameer, Minister of National Planning and Infrastructure Mohamed Aslam, Minister of Health Abdulla Ameen, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Aishath Nahula, Minister of Arts, Culture and Heritage Yumna Maumoon, Minister of Environment Dr. Hussain Rasheed Hassan, and Minister of Economic Development Fayyaz Ismail.
EAM also met with the Minister of Home Affairs Sheikh Imran Abdulla as per the Joint Statement issued by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs on the occaiosn.
Maldives Foreign Minister Shahid reiterated his Government’s “India-First Policy” and said that his Government looks forward to working closely with the Government of India on all issues. He also reiterated that the Government of Maldives would remain sensitive towards India’s security and strategic concerns implying Chinese naval presence in the country.
Despite these positive developments, a visit by Maldives President Ibrahim Solih to India and Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Male to attend the swearing in of the President, the opposition in Maldives is continuing to raise the red flag over relations of the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) government led by Mr Solih with New Delhi.
Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi apologised in the parliament for saying that the Maldives could not stop India from occupying the country. The former lawmaker – who resigned in November to become the country’s first female defence minister – was summoned for questioning at a sitting of parliament over remarks made during an interview with Strategic News International in late January.
“Some people are disturbed by my words in five seconds out of the 22 minutes. If there is any confusion or upset, I humbly apologise for that,” she said. “If the Indians really wanted to occupy Maldives, they never had the intention, I’m sure, but if they do, I don’t know how we can stop it. You see, your airforce, your navy, your infantry, literally there is nothing we can do… this is just being practical,” Mariya had said.
The opposition lawmakers filed a motion of no-confidence against the defence minister, contending the interview provided grounds for dismissal but her apology has settled the matters for now. The question for the defence minister was tabled by opposition Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ahmed Thoriq.
Meanwhile former home minister Umar Naseer filed the motion against the presence of Indian military personnel who operate two helicopters gifted to the Maldivian military while also flagging anti-India sentiment among opposition supporters over alleged secret military deals.
The ‘Indian Soldiers Leave!’ campaign is planned to “increase awareness among the people before the Maldives is enslaved,” Umar Naseer said, accusing India of plotting a “slow invasion.” Naseer is known to be close to the former President Abdullah Yameen who is now under house arrest for massive embezzlement during his presidency.
Maldives Independent Reported that the customs officers at the airport seized “idols” from four Indian tourists who arrived in the Maldives in the first week of March. 28 idols of different sizes were found when their 13 pieces of luggage were screened, the Maldives Customs Service said in a statement. Idols used for worship were found in each of the 13 bags, it added. Upon questioning, they insisted the objects were artefacts. The three women and one man told customs officers they came to the Maldives for a “peaceful gathering.” The Indians have since left the country after the idols were returned to them, customs said.
Yameen though down is not out and is indulging in breaking up the four party coalition that supports Ibu Solih. Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives-People’s National Congress announced a list of candidates the opposition coalition led by the jailed former president Abdulla Yameen supports. The list included 27 candidates from the Jumhooree Party, one of four parties in the ruling coalition.
Cracks appeared in the coalition after President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party decided to field candidates in all 87 parliamentary constituencies, drawing accusations from the JP of reneging on an agreement to divide seats among the parties.
Earlier Speaker Gasim Ibrahim refused to call a vote on a bill granting legal powers to presidential commissions formed to recover stolen assets and investigate unresolved murders on 27 February.
The fate of the coalition will now depend on the outcome of the parliamentary elections on 6 April.
There are 395 candidates for the 87 parliamentary constituencies include: 86 from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party, 41 from coalition partner Jumhooree Party, 26 from the main opposition Progressive Party of Maldives, 23 from the People’s National Congress, 10 from former vice president Ahmed Adeeb’s Maldives Third-Way Democrats nine from the ruling coalition’s Adhaalath Party, nine from the newly-formed Labour Party, eight from the minority opposition Maldives Development Alliance and 186 independent candidates
While all indications are that the MDP will win a majority as it remains popular and thus will continue to support the India First policy, forces led by former President and supported by some regional countries are likely to create hurdles for the government and relations with India in the future.
India needs to create a broader political support base in the atoll nation to prevent exploitation of the opposition for fanning anti India sentiment by inimical powers in the region.
This may include reaching out to former President Yameen else he will continue to be a thorn in relations with New Delhi.