The vote for the Parliament of the Maldives begins; India and China are battling for control of the Indian Ocean

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Male, India, Sunday, April 21, 2024.

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Male, India, Sunday, April 21, 2024. Associated press

MAN: Maldivians voted in parliamentary elections on Sunday, in a vote crucial for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are closely watched by India and China as they battle for influence in the archipelagic nation.

Both countries are seeking a foothold in the Maldives, which has a strategic location in the Indian Ocean.

Muizzu’s election as president last year intensified the rivalry between India and China, with the new leader taking a pro-China stance and moving to remove Indian troops stationed on one of the country’s islets.

Securing a majority in parliament will be difficult for Muizzu as some of his allies have dropped out and more parties have entered the race.

Six political parties and independent groups are fielding 368 candidates for 93 seats in parliament. That is six seats more than the previous Parliament, after adjustments for population growth.

About 284,000 people were eligible to vote and preliminary results were expected to be announced late Sunday.

The theme of Muizzu’s presidential election campaign was ‘India out’, accusing his predecessor of endangering national sovereignty by giving India too much influence.

At least 75 Indian soldiers were stationed in the Maldives and their known activities included flying two aircraft donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people who were stranded or faced with emergencies at sea. Muizzu has taken steps to allow citizens to take over these activities.

Relations became further tense when Indian social media activists started a boycott campaign against tourism in the Maldives. That was in retaliation for three Maldivian deputy ministers who made derogatory statements about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for raising the idea of ​​promoting tourism in Lakshadweep, India’s own string of islands similar to the Maldives.

According to recent Maldives government statistics, the number of Indian tourists has fallen, causing the country to drop from the top source of foreign visitors to sixth place.

Muizzu visited China earlier this year and negotiated an increase in the number of tourists and inbound flights from China.

In 2013, the Maldives joined China’s Belt and Road initiative, aimed at building ports and highways to expand trade – and China’s influence – in Asia, Africa and Europe.