Maldives votes today, President Muizzu’s anti-India policies face a crucial test

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu’s policy of focusing on China and turning away from India will face a real test today when the country votes in parliamentary elections.

Muizzu, 45, won last September’s presidential election as a proxy for pro-China ex-president Abdulla Yameen, who was released this week after a court overturned his 11-year prison sentence in a corruption case.

After taking office, Muizzu awarded high-profile infrastructure contracts to Chinese state-owned enterprises as the parliamentary election campaign was in full swing. His government is also in the process of sending home Indian troops who will use reconnaissance aircraft donated by New Delhi to patrol the archipelago’s vast maritime borders.

“Geopolitics is playing a big role in the background as parties campaign for votes in Sunday’s elections,” a senior Muizzu aide told AFP. “He came to power promising to send Indian troops back and he is working on that. Parliament has not cooperated with him since he came to power.”

The splits in all major political parties, including Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC), are expected to make it difficult for a single party to win a majority.

A court in the capital Male ordered a retrial in the corruption and money laundering cases in which Yameen was sent to prison after he lost a re-election bid in 2018.

Yameen had also supported closer alignment with Beijing when in power, but his conviction prevented him from contesting last year’s presidential election on his own.

About 285,000 Maldivians are eligible to vote on Sunday, with results likely early the next day.

Best known as one of the most expensive holiday destinations in South Asia, with pristine white beaches and secluded resorts, the strategic Indian Ocean island has also become a geopolitical hotspot.

The global east-west shipping routes pass through the national chain of 1,192 small coral islands, which stretch about 800 kilometers (500 miles) across the equator.

(With AFP inputs)