The Maldives is voting in a run-off election on Saturday that could have major implications for the country’s relationship with India and its democratic future.
Incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih is trailing his rival, former president Abdulla Yameen’s deputy Mohamed Muizzu. Solih has accused Muizzu of being a puppet of China and has warned that a Muizzu victory would lead to a return to authoritarianism.
Muizzu has denied the allegations and has pledged to respect democracy and human rights. However, his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM)-led coalition has launched a vitriolic “India Out” campaign.
The Maldives owes a significant amount of money to both India and China. Under Solih’s predecessor, Yameen, Beijing funded a number of infrastructure projects, including a bridge connecting the capital to its neighboring islands and upgrades to the main international airport.
For both India and China, the outcome of the election is important. If Muizzu wins, it could lead to a closer relationship with Beijing and a more distant relationship with New Delhi. This would have implications for the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region.
The Maldivian experiment with democracy is still fragile, and there are concerns that a Muizzu victory could lead to a rollback of democratic freedoms.