Maldives Got New President — A Turnaround In Ties with India
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Maldives Got New President — A Turnaround In Ties with India

By IndraStra Global News Team

Image Attribute: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. (Photo: Twitter/ @PMOIndia)

Image Attribute: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and new Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. (Photo: Twitter/ @PMOIndia)

On November 17, 2018 (Malé, Maldives) - The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi attended the swearing-in ceremony of Ibrahim Solih as Maldives president. Modi was the highest ranking foreign visitor at the ceremony held in a soccer stadium in the capital Malé.

Solih is a veteran lawmaker and as a new President of Maldives following his victory in the Presidential polls (held in September 2018) against then president Abdulla Yameen "has come as a huge relief for New Delhi". The ex-president Yameen was openly pro-China and faced international pressure over imprisoning political rivals — which had negatively affected the Indo-Maldivian relations in the past few years.

The newly elected administration led by Solih's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has pledged to end what it called "China's colonialism" and to resist a "land grab" in the country which straddles key East-West shipping routes. The new administration is openly backed by the United States and its allies.

Earlier this year in an oped, Brigadier (Retd.) Rumel Dahiya (Indian Army) openly commented on Yameen's administration - "The country’s democratic structure has been torn asunder by the present regime, which can be best described as a ‘limpet’. Over the last about four years, the Yameen government has made the Maldivian Parliament irrelevant and has chosen to obey judicial orders only when convenient".  He further added, "China has supported Yameen in return for favors such as rushing the China-Maldives Free Trade Agreement (FTA) through Parliament in an unconstitutional manner and the promise of lease of an island. It has expectedly warned against any external intervention".

Escaping the Chinese "Debt" Trap

Under Yameen's rule, Maldives has accumulated a huge amount of "Chinese Debt" in the form millions of dollars of investments from Chinese lenders. Solih's top economic team is holding discussions with finance ministry officials during the transition following the election in September on how to tackle and restructure the debt. According to Adam Azim, a member of his transition committee, told reporters on Thursday - "investigations will be launched to find out what happened and fix accountability".

"We were led to believe it's about US$ 1.5 billion, the Chinese debt, but it could be worse," said another member of Solih's top economic team, which has been holding discussions with finance ministry officials during the transition following the election in September. As per the current assessment by the team, the debt of US$ 1.5 billion would be more than a quarter of the country's annual gross domestic product. 

Currently, Maldives is reaching out to India, the United States, and Saudi Arabia for financial assistance of US$ 200-300 million to kick-start the budgetary support.

Maldives-India Joint Press Statement

After the talks between the two leaders, a joint press statement was issued which said, "The two leaders while noting the resilience of the relations between India and the Maldives, expressed confidence in the renewal of the close bonds of cooperation and friendship with the election of Mr. Solih as the President of the Maldives. During their meeting, both leaders agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and security in the Indian Ocean and being mindful of each other’s concerns and aspirations for the stability of the region. The two leaders expressed their unwavering commitment and support for increased cooperation in combating terrorism both within the region and elsewhere."

The statement further added, "President Solih also briefed PM Modi on the dire economic situation facing the country as he takes office. The two leaders discussed ways in which India can continue development partnership, particularly to help the new government in meeting its pledges to the people of the Maldives. In particular, President Solih highlighted the pressing need for increased housing and infrastructure development as well as for establishing water and sewerage systems in the outlying islands. Prime Minister Modi assured President Solih of India’s firm commitment in assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development. He also conveyed India’s readiness to extend help in every possible way and suggested that both sides should meet at the earliest to work out details as per requirements of the Maldives."

In the end, Modi has extended an invitation to President Solih to make a State Visit to India at his earliest convenience which the latter has accepted. A team from Minister of Foreign Affairs of Maldives will make an official visit to India on November 26  to hold further discussions and to prepare for the forthcoming State Visit of President Solih to India.