June 23, 2024

Muizzu: Maldives election’s pro-China frontrunner

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The frontrunner in Saturday’s Maldives presidential vote is an ardent advocate of Chinese investment and has promised to steer the luxury tourism hotspot back towards Beijing’s orbit if he wins.

Mohamed Muizzu, a 45-year-old civil engineer by training, was an unlikely candidate after serving as construction minister in the government of his mentor Abdulla Yameen.

But Yameen’s jailing for corruption saw Muizzu tapped to lead the party as his proxy in an election that will decide whether the strategically placed atoll aligns itself with China or India.

Muizzu, presently the mayor of Male, oversaw several Chinese-funded infrastructure projects including a $200-million bridge linking the capital with the archipelago’s main airport.

He told Chinese Communist Party officials during an online meeting last year that his party’s return to office would expand the “strong ties between our two countries”.

British-educated Muizzu won 46 percent of the vote in the election’s first round earlier this month, seven points ahead of incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, 61.

“The Maldivian people have come out and set a great example of nationalism despite the various obstacles placed in front of them,” Muizzu said afterwards.

Muizzu’s success has hinged on a sustained campaign against India’s outsized political and economic clout in the Maldives.

New Delhi has a history of entanglements with affairs in the Maldives, including the deployment of soldiers to thwart a 1988 coup attempt. Its influence has been a periodic source of resentment in the Muslim nation.

Last year, an Islamist group stormed a football stadium in Male to break up a public yoga session, with police firing tear gas to disperse the protesters.

  • ‘India Out’ –

Muizzu’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has fashioned itself the custodian of the national interest by pledging to free the country from interference by its northern neighbor.

“Yameen benefitted from the ‘India Out’ campaign and that in turn helped Muizzu,” former civil servant Masood Imad told AFP.

The PPM has vowed to rid the Maldives of India’s small military detachment, which operates four donated aircraft that protect its vast coastline and help with medical evacuations.

Imad said he expected Muizzu to renegotiate other bilateral agreements with India if he wins on Saturday.

Muizzu has also vowed to pardon Yameen, the architect of their party’s eager embrace of Beijing’s financial largesse through the Belt and Road Initiative — a decade-old program to extend China’s weight in global development.

Yameen is currently serving an 11-year jail term on the same remote prison island he had imprisoned opponents during his autocratic presidency.

©️ Agence France-Presse

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