Front runner and Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu was elected President of the Maldives on Saturday, as he beat the India-friendly incumbent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in a closely fought contest. The outcome signals a likely shift in both domestic governance and foreign policy of the island nation.
Mr. Muizzu garnered about 54% of the vote, while Mr. Solih secured nearly 46%, according to the provisional results published by Male-based media. Saturday’s presidential election run-off saw a higher voter turnout of 86%, compared to the 79.85% recorded in the first —the lowest seen in a Maldivian presidential election — that proved inconclusive.
Also read: The Hindu Profiles: Who is Mohamed Muizzu?
The vote for change in the Maldives comes after a strong anti-incumbency sentiment against the Solih administration, and a concerted Opposition campaign led by his rival, former President and jailed leader Abdulla Yameen, demanding ‘India out’ of the country.
President Solih came under sharp attack from the Opposition for his stated ‘India first’ policy.
Mr. Muizzu, in his campaign ahead of the second round of the presidential polls, yet again promised to “safeguard the country’s independence and sovereignty”. While the Opposition coalition’s (People’s National Congress-Progressive Party of Maldives) pro-China stance in the past is no secret, observers within the Maldives have said Mr. Muizzu is unlikely to abruptly sever ties with India. The newly elected leader would seek to balance India-China ties, they note, even as New Delhi hopes for continuity in India’s many infrastructure projects across the island nation.
A civil engineer by training, Mr. Muizzu will have his task cut out, as the country faces multiple challenges of mounting debt, dwindling foreign reserves, and heightening climate risks. The top two candidates had made big promises on housing, a preoccupation for the Maldivian voter, as the island nation battles congestion and development skewed towards capital Male, while several other atolls await basic amenities.
The Maldives is also preparing for a referendum next month, for citizens to decide if the country must switch to a parliamentary system of governance, a long-time demand of former President and parliamentary Speaker Mohamed Nasheed. After his fallout with his party colleague and friend Mr. Solih —it is seen as a major reason for Mr. Solih’s electoral defeat —Mr. Nasheed backed a young aspirant who came third in the first round on September 9, and subsequently exited the race.