It is poetic justice that the man who subverted democracy in Maldives and put the country at the virtual command of the Chinese Government while jettisoning India which had been the tiny Indian Ocean country’s trusted friend, is at the crossroads today, all set to pay for betraying his countrymen’s trust.
Abdulla Yameen, President of Maldives, has well and truly been rejected by the people for the authoritarian way in which he ruled his country despite all the baits that he offered and the threats he held out to various institutions and individuals.
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That Yameen has so far kept mum and not accepted the verdict of the people is typical of him but this time around his game seems to be up. Even his main prop China would not like to be seen to be defying the people’s mandate. With the Election Commission due to officially declare the results of the presidential election in seven days, Yameen would predictably exhaust all manner of means in the interim to stay in power.
Results released by the Election Commission on Monday morning showed presidential challenger Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had secured 58.3 per cent of the popular vote as opposed to the incumbent, President Yameen, who garnered 42 per cent of the vote.
Sunday’s election, considered a referendum on democracy in the troubled island nation, saw the people pooh poohing Yameen’s pledge that he would boost Maldives’ economy after a first five-year term marred by allegations of rights abuses and corruption.
With Yameen hoping to consolidate his hold on power with a second term, the Opposition had warned that the Maldives’ nascent democracy was at stake in the election. Accusations of fraud had plagued both sides.
Yameen had earlier promulgated a state of emergency, the second in five years, and got the security forces to arrest two out of the five top court judges on charges of plotting a coup. Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the island nation for 30 years, had also been arrested besides a plethora of Opposition leaders whose dissent Yameen was inimical towards.
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Also hounded was the first democratically-elected president of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, who was forced to quit after street protests against him by his detractors who were inspired by Yameen. It was no secret that Nasheed was well disposed towards India and inimical towards China.
It would now be interesting to see how China acts to retain its hold over Maldives and to block Indian efforts to stage a comeback. The Chinese have already enveloped Maldives in what is seen as a virtual debt trap.
This is truly a test case of Chinese intentions to browbeat smaller countries who are steeped in heavy debts to the emerging Chinese super power. Pakistan too has been of late fearing the Chinese stranglehold over it and there are voices within that country opposing too strong a dependence on Beijing.
While the Europeans have fallen foul of Yameen over his authoritarian tendencies over the five years that he was president, the Americans have been relatively muted especially in recent times under President Trump.
Now, however, the US too is flexing its muscles and threatening action to safeguard democracy if there is any attempt by Yameen to subvert the national vote to stick on to power.
All depends on how things pan out. If Yameen bows out gracefully, Maldives could get back to its democratic ethos. However, the catch lies in if he does not. The Chinese, having satisfied their naval goals are not about to give up.
Solih, if he does manage to come to power, will have the Chinese breathing down his neck. How he steers the country’s foreign policy would be a crucial challenge. Indian diplomacy will also be up against a formidable challenge. The future indeed holds diverse possibilities.