Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu was elected next president of the Maldives on Saturday after he defeated the incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in an election closely watched in India.
Muizzu, the candidate of the Opposition alliance comprising the Progressive Party of Maldives and the People’s National Congress, won around 56% of the votes in the second round of presidential polls on Saturday. Maldivian Democratic Party leader Solih won around 46% votes, local media reported.
This second round of polling was necessitated after no candidate managed to win 50% votes in the first round on September 9.
Solih conceded defeat by congratulating Muizzu, currently the mayor of the capital Malé.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi also congratulated Muizzu on Sunday. “India remains committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship and enhancing our overall cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region,” Modi said on social media.
The elections were closely watched in India as the island nation is of strategic importance to Delhi amid its geopolitical competition with China in the Indian Ocean region. Leader of the winning alliance and former president Abdulla Yameen, who is currently in jail after being convicted of corruption, had led a so-called India Out political campaign in recent years.
During Yameen’s presidential term between 2013 and 2018, Delhi’s relations with Malé had turned frosty. On the contrary, the Maldives’ relations with China had strengthened during the same period.
On Saturday, Muizzu called for Yameen’s release from prison.
The Opposition had attacked Solih during the election campaign for what they claimed was his pro-India stance. Solih’s Maldivian Democracy Party, including its former leader Mohamed Nasheed, are widely seen as promoting a so-called India first foreign policy.
Nasheed quit the Maldivian Democratic Party in June after months of internal strife with Solih and losing the party’s presidential primary election to the latter. He then joined The Democrats – a new party some of Maldivian Democracy Party’s rebel parliament members had launched.
Nasheed himself did not contest the presidential polls, but his proxy candidate Ilyas Labeeb finished third with 7% votes in the first round. This division of votes is being seen as a major reason for Solih’s loss.
While Muizzu’s victory is being widely seen as an adverse outcome for India, observers had told Scroll in September that he may look to better balance the Maldives’ ties between Delhi and Beijing.