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Maldives Trends 2022 – Politics and Relations with India

Maldives the atoll nation is expected to go through multiple political convulsions in the coming year 2022 in the run-up to the 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.

This comes about even as former President and Speaker of the parliament Mohammad Nasheed has launched a campaign for holding a referendum for a change in the form of government from a presidential republic to a parliamentary democracy.

On the foreign policy front another former President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has launched an "India Out," campaign which has been delicately structured for opposition to military presence but creating a larger perception of India's perceived oversized role in the atoll nation on the crossroads of the sea lines of communication in the Indian Ocean. Gayoom is also seen to be closer to China.

On the terrorism front, the May 06, 2021 terrorist attack on Speaker of the parliament Mohammad Nasheed was the first significant strike ostensibly by Islamist extremists shaking up the country's response to the entire range of threats in this domain from radicalism to terrorism.

On the economic front, South Asia's most prosperous country in terms of per capita GDP is debt-laden facing fiscal challenges even though there are anticipation of revival of the tourism sector subject to the global trajectory of Omicron.

Thus 2022 is expected to be an eventful year in multiple domains from the political to security and economy reviewed as given below:-

Political Trends 2022

Presidential and parliamentary elections due in 2023 are expected to heat up the political environment in Maldives in 2022.

Presidential elections last held on 23 September 2018 are expected in the second half of 2023 this may be preceded by parliamentary polls, which were last held on 6 April 2019 and the next are expected around the same time in 2023.

Elections in Maldives have always been contentious, with the two largest parties Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) presently in power and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the preceding party in government working with varied coalitions.

The political space is expected to see increasing contestations with the release of PPM leader and former President former President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom by the Supreme Court. He is accused of a bribe of USD 1.2 million for the lease of Fuggiri, and money laundering.

Speaker of the parliament Mohammad Nasheed and President Ibu Solih are the two other key leaders and with Gayoom actively campaigning on an agenda of "India Out," or rejecting the presence of the Indian military in Maldives, 2022 is likely to see much political heat.

The ruling MDP has seen differences between the parliament speaker and the President of late, which has weakened the party to some extent. The local council elections in Male, the country's capital, were won by the PPM in 2020.

Another issue that will gather momentum is campaign for transfer to parliamentary system of government launched by former President and Speaker Mohammad Nasheed is expected to gain momentum.

The first stage in this will be a referendum and sufficient momentum has been built for this purpose so far. How this will proceed ahead in 2022 remains to be seen?

Any amendment to the constitution will require three-quarters majority vote by its membership and the signature of the President of the republic.

India Maldives China Triangle

Maldives on the critical sea lanes in the Indian Ocean is wooed by India as well as China. Thus, balancing between the two regional powers remains a crucial facet of the country's foreign policy.

While India has been favoured by the ruling MDP, the opposition PPP is inclined towards China. In general Maldivians resist outside presence in the country and the windmill tilts based on the party in power.

Former Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom released in November has now launched an 'India Out' campaign touring atolls. This is vitriolic with Gayoom claiming, "If they [India] are here to protect interests, then the government should be able to reveal what's in the agreements," and Maldivian people wanted Indian military personnel out of their country. "There isn't anyone who believes there isn't Indian military presence in Maldives. The government has expressed concern over anti-India propaganda on grounds of the impact of spreading hatred and false allegations and the safety and security of citizens in Maldives and Maldivians living abroad.

Gayoom has called for a public opinion poll to identify views regarding the stationing of Indian military personnel in the Maldives will this be held in 2022 remains to be seen.

The MDP though inclined towards India has maintained a reasonable balance indicating that it will uphold the 'One-China' policy in a recent interaction in December

between the Ambassador of China to the Maldives Wang Lixin and Vice President Faisal Naseem.

Meanwhile, the large debt repayable to China remains a matter of concern and has resulted in Bank of China withdrawing an agreement to provide a loan to a Chinese project in Maldives which may reflect a change in the political and diplomatic position by Beijing.

Wary of the debt the government led by President Solih has been not pursued a free trade agreement made with China by the previous government.

Relations with countries in the region as Bangladesh and Pakistan [pro China] as well as the Gulf Arabs will also be under scrutiny in the year ahead. Bangladesh donated 13 military vehicles to the Maldives during the state visit which Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in December

The maritime boundary dispute with Mauritius is another issue that may see some traction in 2022.

As per details provided by the Sun Online Maldives has responded in the Mauritius-Maldives maritime boundary dispute filed at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) regarding the overlap the Maldives' Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Mauritian waters in 2019.

ITLOS decided that they had the jurisdiction to review the case and declare delimitation in January 28, 2021 and Maldives has been providing evidence in support of the case. How this proceeds ahead remains to be seen?

Radicalism and Violent Extremism

The May 6, terrorist attack has seen a shift in perception of terrorism and counter-terror in the country. Trials of four suspects are being conducted, and the outcome will dictate how Maldives will contain the spread of terror in the country in the future. In addition, Maldives has strengthened the counter-terrorism posture with a focus on intelligence and proactive actions.

Synergy between the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) and the Maldives police service will prevent a terrorist attack in 2022 as well as intelligence and operational facets as there is a body of radicals, some of whom have travelled to Syria and Iraq in the past.

The government took a number of measures, such as orders to block online mediums used to preach other religions, enforcement of which is anticipated in 2022.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, ratified the third amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Act. Parliament passed this bill at the 44th sitting of its third session of this year, held on November 29. Police will now be able to detain persons suspected of terrorism-related offenses for 48-hours without a court order as reported by Sun Online

Institutional infrastructure is another area of expansion.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, inaugurated the Joint Interagency Operations Center (JIOC) - a new center established to counter-terror attacks. This will facilitate coordination of intelligence and responses.

Countering the propaganda of radicalism is an area of concern acknowledged by the President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih who said that one of the greatest issues facing the Maldivian community is the spread of incorrect beliefs in the name of Islam in his address to the nation on the anniversary of the day Maldives embracing Islam. The Parliament has passed the government bill to amend the Penal Code to criminalize acts of hate.

Economic Trends

The World Bank has projected that the Maldivian economy will grow by 22.3 percent this year in regional update report titled ‘Shifting Gears: Digitization and Services-Led Development’ published in October this 2021 largely due to low base effects.

The Report projects economy to grow by 11 percent in 2022.

Maldives Parliament has passed the projected state budget for 2022. The budget proposed by the Finance Ministry, with debt repayments and payments to international financial institutions, had totaled MVR 36.9 billion as per Sun Online.

The parliamentary committee added MVR 73.8 million to the budget, increasing total expenditure to MVR 34.10 billion and the total budget to MVR 36.99 billion.

The budget projects MVR 24.3 billion as revenue and grants, therefore, the 2022 budget is a MVR 9.7 billion deficit budget.

The government will need an additional MVR 13.4 billion to finance the budget in order to cover the MVR 9.7 billion deficit, the MVR 2.8 billion needed to repay loans, and MVR 805 million needed for additional spending.

The economy is thus expected to be under severe stress on debt repayment.

The Parliament has approved the Finance Ministry's request to extend the period the government is authorized to overdraw public bank accounts until April 2023. On the positive side, tourism is expected to pick up in case the Omicron variant is contained, which is a key uncertainty.

Military capacity building

Maldives capacity building is also expected to pick up the main focus being on maritime security and countering terrorism. The Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) has been awarded a Maldives National University (MNU) project to build a Maritime Survival Center.

MNDF is making a concerted effort to enhance capability to operate fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, which will be the main area to be observed in 2022.

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