India’s prime minister Narendra Modi was due in the Maldives on Saturday when president-elect Mohamed Solih assumed office, the Economic Times and other Indian media reported on November 16.
Solih, who is seen as pro-India, won the September 23 presidential election and will succeed Abdulla Yameen, the president since 2013 and the architect of a close relationship between the Maldives and China.
The Economic Times quoted K. Yhome of the New Delhi-based think-tank the Observer Research Foundation as saying that “India is in a position to gain some lost ground in the Maldives. The fact that prime minister Modi has agreed to attend the swearing-in sends a message that India supports the new government.”
But it remains to be seen how Soilh handles the Maldives’ delicate relationships with Asia’s two giants after he assumes office.
China has invested millions of dollars into infrastructure projects in the Maldives, including a two-kilometer “friendship bridge” between Hulhule, where the country’s main international airport is located, and the capital Male.
Chinese companies have also leased land in the Maldives ostensibly for “tourism development” and the island chain is seen as a vital part of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative, which involves infrastructure development and investments in countries in Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Economic Times also notes that “Solih’s triumph in the Maldives contrasts with political turmoil in Sri Lanka, where the president (Maithripala Sirisena) has tried to unilaterally sack his prime minister (Ranil Wickremesinghe) and appoint the country’s former pro-Chinese strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in his place.”
In Sri Lanka, the move triggered a constitutional crisis and even a violent brawl in the parliament leading to a power vacuum, while the transfer of power in the Maldives, so far, has been peaceful.