India shouldn’t squander chance to mend ties with Maldives as Ibrahim Mohamed Solih becomes president

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Voters are a smarter lot that most venal politicians think. After a period of emergency, jailing of opposition leaders, and muzzling of a liberal press, the voting public in the Maldives have ousted President Abdulla Yameen with a huge majority. The prevailing hope is that the change to lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih will bring some stability into a country that depends so heavily on tourism to keep its home fires burning.
Initial reports suggest a more than 80 percent turn out across the country, indicating the depth of resentment against the sitting president. Messages of congratulations from major countries including the United States and India among others have already begun to pour in preventing Yameen from executing any attempt to roll back the people’s verdict. After all, it was only in June that the Election Commission declared former president Mohamed Nasheed ineligible to run for president, despite his winning the primaries with 43,922 of the 44,011 votes cast. In August, the presidential spokesman was attempting to muddy the waters by warning of a plot to unseat the president. And just prior to polling, The Hindu reported a police raid on Opposition headquarters which raised fears that the polls would be rigged. In the event, that raid probably strengthened voters resolve to be out of the sorry mess that the Maldives has been ever since political instability began in 2015, with Nasheed was convicted of terrorism charges in what most saw as a mock-up trial, and dissenting political leaders and Supreme Court judges were thrown into jail.Even as the country celebrates the win, the fact remains that the victor, Ibrahim Mohammad Solih is a consensus candidate of the joint opposition, which includes the MDP, the Jumhooree Party, the Adhaalat Party and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s own faction of the Progressive Party. There were months of bickering and invective between these rather unlikely partners, and the end result was the selection of Solih, a reformer and a close friend of Nasheed for the last four decades. Solih has been known for propagating a multiparty system since 2001. He was a Council member when the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) was formed in 2003 and was in the part forefront when the multiparty system was accepted. According to those who know him, Solih is a low key operator and someone who can defuse any crisis with his invariably calm demeanour. He’s going to need that particular quality a lot in the coming days.The Opposition is, after all, anything but united, though they have stood shoulder to shoulder against president Yameen. But being against someone can only provide so much glue. The fact that leaders are linked to one another in a confusing mix of often competitive relationships only makes matters worse. Yameen, for instance, is the half-brother of Gayoom. That didn’t prevent the latter from consigning him to the prison, even though he owed much to the former strongman. Gayoom’s own son Faris is a presidential hopeful, but without the political base that the MDP leader has. That led to Gayoom cosying up to Nasheed during his years in exile, particularly after he himself was targeted by the enterprising Yameen. Solih’s wife is the first cousin to Nasheed which makes him a relative. In other connections, Jumhooree Party’s Gasim Ibrahim owes his rise to the patronage of Gayoom’s brother-in-law. The agendas of the joint opposition are also likely to clash. Gasim (or Qasim) Ibrahim, head of the Jumhooree Party is Maldives very own log cabin to White House story. Starting his life in dire poverty, he is now known as the richest man in the Maldives.

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