Home » Voters Back Maldives Change in Foreign Policy

Voters Back Maldives Change in Foreign Policy


Maldives has held two elections within the past seven months, and both signal the country is changing drastically under President Mohamed Muizzu’s leadership.

Muizzu came to power following September 2023’s presidential election on the back of an “India out” slogan. This agenda drove nationalist sentiments against foreign influence in Maldives. Upon taking office, his government initiated the withdrawal of a regiment of Indian military personnel based in Maldives to operate two helicopters and a Dornier aircraft for search and rescue operations.

That was followed by meetings and various agreements with Turkey and China, which raised India’s anxiety.

Last September’s presidential landslide has now been cemented with a supermajority in the parliamentary election held on April 21, 2024. Muizzu’s party, the People’s National Congress (PNC), has secured more than a two-thirds majority in the 93-seat parliament.

While Miuzzu’s inauguration address last November prioritized the interests of the Maldivian people and national sovereignty, protection of human rights and upholding international law, the combined result of the presidential and parliamentary elections bring into sharp focus the perceived tug-of-war for Maldives’ allegiances in the region.

India and China both see Maldives as a strategic ally in their posturing for regional dominance. Such “on and off” external tension has shaped the way in which outside observers today frame the policy shifts in Maldives following elections.

With a bigger majority, it remains to be seen if the government will be less inclined to bend toward political pressure from the likes of India and China. But the reality is not so simple, with Miuzzu intent on Maldives playing a more balanced strategic game, welcoming relations with all parties.

During the 2013-2018 rule of President Abdulla Yameen, the government was met with external pressure, namely India and its like-minded Indo-Pacific allies, due to expanded foreign investments from China. The pressure was eased only after Yameen’s successor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s government reiterated the “India-First” policy in 2018 — a decision making India the preferred country for Maldives in its policy decision making.

In the past, any incoming president would normally make India or Sri Lanka their first international port of call for diplomatic visits. However, Muizzu chose Turkey as the first country to visit after his inauguration. As a result, Maldives today benefits from a sophisticated high-level technology platform composed of Turkish Bayraktar TB2 tactical drones.

Then, in January 2024, Muizzu visited China. As part of the new initiatives Muizzu met with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping, and signed around 20 agreements with China — including security-related engagements. In February, the movement of the Chinese research vessel, Xiang Yang Hong 03, in Maldives waters received high criticism from India.

All of these swirling, competing interests do little to benefit policy choices as the rising tension became pegged to Sunday’s election results, creating future worries both in Maldives and abroad. 

A mere securitization of Maldives foreign engagements could in fact undermine the national and foreign policy objectives of such a small state.

Maldives is a tourism-dependent developmental state. Its island infrastructure, supporting a multi-billion dollar industry, has been continuously threatened by climate change. Mega-infrastructure development projects have prevented coastal erosion and tidal swells. Therefore, the true security priority for the Maldives is to ensure climate-resilient development in its foreign partnerships, which are an important part of the development agenda.

Muizzu does not appear to be interested in Maldives jostling as part of a big powers security competition. He has expressed the desire for Maldives to partner with all countries, including India, the United States, and Japan — all members of the Quad, which was created to keep China’s perceived expansionism in check.

The engagement in defense and security partnerships is a unique opportunity for Maldives, a country facing multifaceted security concerns such as maritime crimes compounded by climate impacts. In this respect, a strategic approach to security cooperation can be started by identifying the capability gaps and enhancing investments to fill those gaps by strengthening the existing joint operations.

The February 2024 Dosti exercise between India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka was an indication of continued, successful collaboration between Maldives and India’s defense forces. Other Indo-Pacific partners, including the U.S. and Australia, have improved domestic-focused diplomatic platforms to help mutual capability building in defense cooperation.

Australia opened its Malé-based High Commission in 2023. The establishment has enhanced people-to-people and institutional links, including defense sector cooperation, between the Canberra and Malé. As part of institutional links, research engagements, such as ANU’s ongoing research on Indian Ocean security issues involving Maldives defense and security sector, also indicate Canberra’s role in obtaining deeper understanding of Maldives’ regional security interests.

The recent return of the Indo-Pacific Endeavor (IPE) to Maldives further stresses the importance of the shared importance Maldives and Australia have placed in the Indian Ocean security.

Mutually beneficial projects in the defense and security sectors can achieve a high level of investor confidence and success for Maldives. Rather than settling on isolationist policies, like-minded Indo-Pacific partners need to engage domestically and tease out mutual opportunities.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

What’s your Reaction?

Leave a Comment

To prove you're a person (not a spam script), type the security word shown in the picture.
You can enter the Tamil word or English word but not both
Anti-Spam Image