Home » Maldivian President Mohammad Muizzu Consolidates Control

Maldivian President Mohammad Muizzu Consolidates Control


Maldivian President Mohammad Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) secured a landslide victory in the Indian Ocean archipelago’s fourth multiparty parliamentary elections on April 21. The party won 66 seats on its own, and with six independents aligning with it, the PNC government’s tally in the 93-member Maldivian parliament has risen to 72 seats. As for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which had swept to power in the 2018 presidential elections and the 2019 parliamentary elections, it won only 12 seats in the recent election. The People’s National Front (PNF) and The Democrats, which were floated by former Presidents Abdullah Yameen and Mohammad Nasheed, drew a blank.

As a candidate of the People’s National Congress-Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) coalition, Muizzu secured 54.04 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election to become the Maldives’ eighth president. With his party, the PNC, now holding a supermajority in parliament, Muizzu has consolidated his position. Moreover, there is a measure of stability in the Maldives now.

Over the past year, the Maldives has grappled with political infighting and instability. Parties have split and/or joined hands with rivals. The then-ruling MDP split a few months before the 2023 presidential elections. The breakaway group under Nasheed went on to form The Democrats. This had a significant impact on the outcome of the September 30 presidential election—the MDP’s presidential candidate President Ibrahim Solih was defeated. This split also impacted the recent parliamentary elections.

Although the PPM and PNC joined hands to contest the presidential elections, relations soured soon after. Yameen, who was in prison then had expected to be acquitted of the corruption and money laundering charges once Muizzu became president. But that did not happen. President Muizzu reportedly didn’t respond to even a single phone call from Yameen after winning the presidential elections. It led to Yameen leaving the PPM a week after Muizzu assumed office as president to form a new party, the PNF.

Since becoming president, Muizzu has come under intense opposition scrutiny. Indeed, the parliamentary elections were conducted amid corruption allegations leveled against Muizzu. These charges were based on a leaked intelligence report prepared by the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Maldives Monetary Authority, claiming irregularities in money transfers to Muizzu’s personal bank account that highlighted ten critical red flag indicators of financial misconduct.

In January, clashes broke out inside parliament between PNC and opposition parliamentarians over the latter’s refusal to approve Muizzu’s appointments to cabinet posts. The MDP, along with The Democrats, then considered impeaching President Muizzu. Their plan, however, ran aground. Wresting control of parliament from the MDP was therefore important for Muizzu.

By winning the 2024 parliamentary elections Muizzu has been able to end the tussle between the legislative and executive arms of the island nation. Attaining a supermajority has further bolstered his political capital as he aims to deliver fast-tracked developmental policies and continue his ‘Maldives First’ policy.

The MDP and The Democrats have been unhappy with the government’s regulation of state-owned enterprises, political favoritism in appointments, the pro-China and anti-India tilt in foreign policy, and its opaqueness on expenditure, financial status, and agreements with countries. But their weakened position has muted their opposition to Muizzu’s policies.

Muizzu won the 2023 presidential elections primarily on the back of an ‘India Out’ and ‘Maldives First’ campaign agenda. Soon after becoming president, he put this into effect. He abandoned the tradition of making India the destination of his first official international visit and instead, chose to visit Turkey and later China. This indicated a diversification in Maldivian foreign policy under Muizzu and a possible drift away from India.

With India completing the withdrawal of its troops deployed in the archipelago, Muizzu was able to show that he had fulfilled his campaign promise to end all foreign military presence on Maldivian soil The Maldivian President stressed the need for India to respect Maldivian sovereignty to get it to pull out its personnel. However, the role played by India in the Maldives cannot be overlooked. In the last five years, more than 500 medical evacuations have been carried out by Indian personnel, saving 523 Maldivian lives.

Meanwhile, India-Maldives relations have frayed further in recent months with three Maldivian ministers making derogatory remarks about Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It prompted Indian citizens to avoid visiting the Maldives as tourists. Although the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators apologized for the ministers’ remarks and the government took action against the ministers, Indian tourist footfalls in the Maldives have not picked up since the controversy erupted.

India-Maldives cooperation is important for India’s efforts to maintain regional security and the safety of sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) in the Indian Ocean. Additionally, Maldives holds a key position in India’s SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and Neighborhood First policies.

India has been extending substantial financial aid to the Maldives. In FY 2023, India allocated $47 million in its budget as financial aid to the Maldives. The revised estimates indicate that around $84 million was spent. The interim budget for FY 2024 estimates a budget of around $72 million for developmental assistance, which is to be extended through High Impact Community Development Projects.

Despite such efforts, India-Maldives bilateral relations have continued to sour since Muizzu took charge. Maldives did not send representation to the 6th National Security Advisor (NSA)-level meeting at the Colombo Security Conclave hosted by Mauritius, on December 7, 2023. The Colombo Security Conclave engages India, Maldives, Mauritius and Sri Lanka, primarily focusing on security issues within the Indian Ocean Region.

However, Maldivian Vice President Hussain Mohamed Latheef attended the 2nd China-Indian Ocean Region Forum on Development Cooperation on December 7-8, 2023. CIORFDC is an initiative organized by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA).

Further, during President Muizzu’s official state visit to China in January, 20 key agreements were signed. The two governments signed a military assistance agreement subsequently. While its contents were not disclosed, the agreement seeks to provide military assistance ‘gratis’ to the Maldives.

More recently, the Muizzu government welcomed the Chinese research vessel Xiang Yang Hong 03 which India deems to be a surveillance ship, to its shores. China has also extended financial aid, developmental assistance and other infrastructural investments to the Maldives.

With the PNC winning the parliamentary elections and holding a supermajority in parliament, President Muizzu’s position has strengthened remarkably. Regarding foreign policy, the Maldives’ tilt toward China in recent months can be expected to become more pronounced. The India-Maldives relationship will become more of a partnership, meaning the relationship will be more consensual than in the past and non-coercive in its approach.

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