Former Maldivian foreign minister and a leading opposition leader Ahmed Naseem has sought international support for peaceful transition of power in the archipelago, amid reports that strongman Abdulla Yameen is trying to cling onto power despite his shock election defeat.
On Monday, the joint opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih – widely viewed as an ally of India, defeated the pro-Beijing incumbent, Yameen in the presidential election. Yameen, who was widely tipped to retain power, had jailed or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals during his turbulent five-year term.
“We need to pave way for a free and a democratic Maldives which will also ensure the stability of Indian Ocean region. Yameen is trying to undermine and annul the election. It is absolutely necessary that the will of the people prevail and the leaders of the region and the free world impress upon him to let democracy prevail in the Maldives,” Naseem, who is in the US, told PTI. “At this crucial juncture…we need all the support we can get from our international partners,” he added.
On Wednesday, the opposition accused Yameen of delaying the release of high-profile political prisoners despite calls by his successor for their release. Shortly after his defeat, Yameen had freed five prisoners. But scores of others – including Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his estranged half-brother and former president – remain incarcerated. Rumours have abounded on social media and elsewhere that Yameen could file an election petition seeking the delay of the election result announcement.
Meanwhile, American think-tanks also voiced their concern over the delay in official declaration of the election results in Maldives. “Any reluctance to accept the will of the people would represent a clear rejection of democratic principles,” Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI) said and urged the Maldivian election commission to release the official results. “The people of the Maldives deserve to have their vote respected and to determine their own future,” IRI president Daniel Twining said.
Echoing his voice, Bharat Gopalaswamy, president of the prestigious Atlantic Council think-tank, said, “Justice delayed is justice denied! People have spoken. Hope EC hears what we hear!” “The people of the Maldives have made their voices heard and deserve a peaceful transition of power – any news of a potential coup is deeply disturbing,” Gopalaswamy said. Yameen’s defeat presents a real opportunity for India and the US to collaborate together and help Maldives escape the Chinese debt-trap diplomacy in which the archipelago increasingly finds itself ensnared, Ronak Desai, affiliate at the Lakshmi Mittal South Asia Institute at Harvard University, said. China’s growing presence in the country generated an inevitable friction between New Delhi and Male, and was symptomatic of Beijing’s larger strategic designs in the Indo-Pacific region, he said.
“Although the election results are sure to inject some much-needed momentum in bilateral ties, China will undoubtedly seek to maintain, and even increase, its growing footprint in the Maldives moving forward. The question is whether India has a strategy in place capable of countering Chinese influence there,” Desai added.