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How will India-Maldives relations fare with break-up of the ruling party in Male?

President Ibrahim Solih (L) and Speaker Mohamed Nasheed (R) in happier times (Photo: The Times of Addu)

Former Maldivian President, Mohamed Nasheed’s supporters have decided to form a new political party – The Democrats, which will be headed by Nasheed. The archipelago goes to the polls in September this year.

In fast-moving developments in the South Asian nation, at least 12 MPs have already quit the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). However, Speaker Nasheed himself has not quit the party despite his plans to head the new political outfit.

Both Speaker Nasheed and Maldivian President Ibrahim Solih are known supporters of India. Also, Solih enjoys a close personal chemistry with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With these two leaders of the MDP at the helm, diplomatic and economic relations between New Delhi and Male have grown manifold.

With India’s financial and infrastructural support, Maldives has been able to shake off the financial impact of Covid as well as slipped out of the debt diplomacy net cast by Beijing through its loans and infrastructure projects.

India Narrative spoke with Dhananjay Tripathi, Associate Professor, Department of International Relations at the South Asian University (SAU) to know whether a split in the MDP is likely to impact relations with India.

Tripathi says that a lot depends upon the prospects of opposition candidate Abdulla Yameen, who has been found guilty of corruption and money laundering during his term as president. Yameen heads the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) which has been a strident anti-India party. “It is still not clear whether Yameen is eligible to contest the election because of corruption. Even though he is in jail, his party is making efforts to secure his candidacy for the upcoming elections. But because of his 11-year conviction by a criminal court, he cannot contest unless a higher court clears him”, says Tripathi.

Yameen was sentenced in December 2022 to 11 years in prison and a fine of $3 million for laundering money and accepting bribes from a foreign company in deals for the development of a resort.

Tripathi also says that India’s community-based approach in development projects, not just in the Maldives but also in other countries in South Asia, has made a difference among the people. He says: “Our investment in Maldives is massive. That has made a difference”.

Talking about the internal politics between the two stalwarts of the ruling party – President Solih and Speaker Nasheed, Tripathi says: “Even if the two contest elections against each other both have a good equation with India. The coalition politics in the country is very fluid with political parties changing their partners in each election. We could have a scenario that the opposition parties may actually end up supporting either Solih or Nasheed. However, it is also possible that the two might end up supporting the other in case one of the parties gets a larger vote”.

With a highly dynamic Maldivian politics, it is still early to predict how Nasheed’s party – The Democrats, shapes-up.

Also read: Time for Maldives to catch up with Gulf nations on religious reforms