Foreign Policy Watch: India-Maldives

The Maldives, the evolution of a democracy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Recent developments involving India

Mains level: India's approach in the evolving Maldivian political landscape

What’s the news?

  • The recent presidential election in the Maldives has demonstrated the vitality of democracy in South Asia’s smallest nation-state.

Central idea

  • The Maldives’ recent fair and free election, which enhanced its international standing, underscores the importance of a nuanced understanding of its politics rather than portraying it as a China vs. India contest. Voter concerns, especially among the youth, are primarily centered on economic well-being.

Transition of Power in the Maldives and India vs. China

  • Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Era (1978–2008): For three decades, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom ruled as the President, maintaining a one-party system. This period marked a lack of political pluralism and democracy in the Maldives.
  • Emergence of Multiparty Democracy (Late 2000s): The Maldives began to transition towards a multiparty democracy under a new constitution, signaling a shift away from Gayoom’s authoritarian rule.
  • Mohamed Nasheed’s Presidency (2008–2012): Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic leader, became the first directly elected President of the Maldives. However, his presidency was short-lived, as he did not complete his full five-year term.
  • Shared Presidency (2012–2013): Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation led to a period of political uncertainty. Mohamed Waheed Hassan assumed the presidency during this transitional phase.
  • Abdulla Yameen’s Presidency (2013–2018): Abdulla Yameen became president and was notably the most pro-China president during his tenure. His presidency marked a shift in the Maldives’ foreign policy towards China.
  • Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Presidency (2018–2023): Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, representing the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), assumed the presidency and adopted an ‘India First’ policy, emphasizing strong ties with India.
  • Transition to Mohamed Muizzu (Upcoming): Following Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s defeat, the presidency is set to transition to Mohamed Muizzu, the opposition candidate backed by an alliance of political parties. Muizzu, who currently serves as the mayor of the capital city, Male, will be sworn in as the new president.

Challenges Faced by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih

  • Historical Incumbent Disadvantage: The Maldives has a history of not re-electing incumbent presidents, posing a significant challenge to Solih’s re-election.
  • Intraparty Conflict: Internal divisions within the ruling MDP, exacerbated by Mohamed Nasheed’s departure, weakened party cohesion and campaign effectiveness.
  • Disinformation Campaign: The opposition alliance launched a disinformation campaign exploiting MDP’s internal divisions and injecting unnecessary geopolitical issues into the election discourse.
  • Loss of Nasheed’s Influence: Mohamed Nasheed’s departure deprived the MDP of his charismatic leadership and effective communication skills, further straining party unity.

The Path Ahead for the Maldives

  • Leadership Dynamics: Watch for the evolving relationship between President-elect Muizzu and former President Yameen, a key figure in the new administration.
  • Transition to Presidential Role: Expect Mayor Muizzu to shift from his mayoral role to acting as president, focusing on domestic development and regional responsibilities.
  • Domestic Priorities: Muizzu is likely to prioritize issues like employment, housing, and education for Maldivian citizens while leveraging foreign policy for national interests.
  • Foreign Policy Options: The new administration faces choices in foreign policy: revert to ‘India Out,’ continue ‘India First,’ or adopt a balanced approach involving India and China.
  • Changing Global Landscape: Consider the impact of challenges to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Sri Lankan financial crisis requiring India’s help, and shifts in India-Gulf State relations on the Maldives’ stance.
  • Islamist Constituency: Monitor the attitude of the Maldives’ Islamist constituency, which historically had complex relations with India, in response to changing regional dynamics.
  • Reduced Interest in Pakistan: Observe how diminishing interest in Pakistan in West Asia may affect the Maldives’ security and its handling of extremism-related challenges.

Recommendations for India’s approach in the evolving Maldivian political landscape

  • Positive Public Sentiment: India enjoys a positive image among the Maldivian people, thanks to extensive development work and community projects. This sentiment can be leveraged for stronger bilateral relations.
  • Engagement with Youth: Thousands of Maldivian youth have benefited from training and capacity-building programs in India. Continued engagement with youth is vital for fostering long-term ties.
  • Diverse Engagement: India plays a significant role in the Maldives, including in tourism, trade, and investment. This multifaceted engagement should be nurtured and expanded.
  • Strengthening Regional Initiatives: New Delhi should focus on strengthening regional initiatives, such as the Colombo Security Conclave, with tangible outcomes in maritime security and the development of the Blue Economy.
  • BIMSTEC Involvement: India should consider reimagining regional cooperation by inviting the Maldives as an observer in the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) at its next summit. This could enhance regional collaboration.
  • Resource Allocation: There is a need for additional resources to support India’s strategic community and media organizations in taking a more active interest in the Maldives. Building bridges of mutual understanding and trust is essential.


  • The Maldives’ recent presidential election underscores the resilience of democracy and the evolving political landscape in South Asia. As the nation embarks on a new chapter, prudent diplomacy and strategic engagement will be essential for the Maldives and its regional partners, including India, to navigate the challenges and opportunities on the horizon.

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