The Maldives seeks political stability in crucial parliamentary vote

Last Updated: Saturday, 6 April 2019 (14:59 IST)
Voting has begun on the Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives, as President Solih hopes to gain a majority in parliament. Political turmoil has plagued the country for years, with China and India vying for influence.
Maldivians are voting in parliamentary elections on Saturday, with more than 264,000 people eligible to cast a ballot. Altogether 386 candidates are running for a place in parliament.
 
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih (photo above) needs at least 44 seats in the 87-member parliament to secure a majority. His coalition currently has 52 seats, but one major political partner with 22 seats recently aligned with former President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
 
Solih's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Yameen's Progressive Party of (PPM) are the main contenders in the election.
 
Reform pledges
 
Solih, who defeated Yameen in last year's presidential election, requires a majority in parliament to be able to pass legislation and implement his political and economic agenda. The president has promised reforms, an end to political influence over the judiciary, police and the bureaucracy, and a curb on financial corruption.
 
On Friday, he urged voters to back his party to ensure a stable government that was capable of implementing the necessary changes.
 
In last year's presidential election, the opposition parties had joined hands to defeat Yameen, but soon after Solih's victory, the coalition split and left the new president without a parliamentary majority.
 
Yameen, who was released last week from detention after being arrested in February on corruption allegations, spoke to voters through a phone call broadcast over loudspeakers.
 
Political turmoil
 
Saturday's vote also marks the comeback of the country's first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, who, after being released by the courts, is running for a seat in the election.
 
Solih was only a fallback presidential choice for the MDP because Nasheed had been sentenced to prison under Yameen for the allegedly unlawful arrest of a judge while president, and therefore was ineligible to run last year.
 
The Maldives, which became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of authoritarian rule, has been facing political turmoil since Nasheed's resignation in 2012.
 
Geopolitical tug-of-war
 
Analysts say that both China and India are trying to outdo each other's influence on the Maldives.
 
While Yameen was in power, China had gained more political influence across the archipelago. Under Yameen, the Maldivian economy showed signs of improvement, although economists say the country's growth was partly due to aid and investment from China.
 
 
Beijing considers the Maldives an important route in its "Belt and Road" initiative, which, along with other objectives, aims to connect the Indian Ocean to Central Asia.
 
Solih's MDP is considered pro-India and wants to scale down Chinese influence on the Maldives.
 
Ahead of the 2018 presidential election, former President Nasheed had warned Maldivians that the vote could be their last chance to liberate the country from Chinese influence.
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