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Mohamed Muizzu, the President-elect of the Maldives, has reaffirmed last week his commitment to fulfil his campaign promise of removing Indian military personnel stationed in the archipelago state. He claimed that he would initiate the process as soon as he will become the official president, declaring that he would not tolerate the presence of foreign military forces in the Maldives against the will of its citizens. Muizzu stressed that the people of the Maldives have clearly expressed their desire for the removal of foreign military personnel.
This development has significant implications for India in its geopolitical competition with China in the Indian Ocean region. The recent presidential runoff election in the Maldives was seen as a de facto referendum on which regional power would exert the greatest influence over the archipelago. President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, elected in 2018, faced allegations from Muizzu that he had permitted India an unrestricted presence in the country. Muizzu’s political party, the People’s National Congress, is known for its pro-China stance. Former President Abdulla Yameen, who led the People’s National Congress, integrated the Maldives into China’s Belt and Road initiative during his presidency from 2013 to 2018. Both India and China were providing money for Maldives governments in the last decade.
Muizzu’s primary campaign focus revolved around what he perceived as a threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty posed by certain Indian military personnel stationed on one of the islands, aligning with his party’s long-standing “India Out” strategy. Solih, however, maintained that the Indian military’s presence in the Maldives was solely for the purpose of constructing a dockyard under a bilateral agreement, and he assured that it did not infringe on the country’s sovereignty. The exact number of Indian troops in the Maldives remains undisclosed, leading to suspicion and speculation due to the secrecy surrounding the agreement between the two governments regarding the deployment of military personnel.
Mohamed Muizzu secured 54% of the votes in the elections that took place in the end of September, while the incumbent, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, received 46%.
The Maldives, comprising 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, is strategically located along the primary shipping route between the East and the West. For a considerable period, the Maldives has remained within India’s sphere of influence. This positioning allows New Delhi to assert control over and oversee a strategically vital section of the Indian Ocean.
India had also wielded significant influence in the politics of Maldives, as demonstrated by its intervention in 1988 when Indian troops were deployed to the island to quell a coup attempt that aimed to depose the dictator it was supporting, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gayoom was eventually ousted from power two decades later, in 2008, following the country’s first democratic election.
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