MALE, Maldives (AP) — The president-elect of the Maldives said he will stick to his campaign promise to remove Indian military personnel stationed in the archipelago state, promising he would initiate the process.
Mohamed Muiz told his supporters gathered Monday night at a celebration of his election victory that he wouldn’t stand for a foreign military staying in the Maldives against the will of its citizens.
“The people have told us that they don’t want foreign military here,” he said.
It’s a serious blow to India in its geopolitical rivalry with China in the India Ocean region, where the Maldives’ presidential runoff election Saturday was seen as a virtual referendum on which of the regional powers would have the biggest influence on the archipelago. Outgoing President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who was elected president in 2018, was battling allegations by Muiz that he had allowed India an unchecked presence in the country. Muiz’s party, the People’s National Congress, is viewed as heavily pro-China.
Muiz’s main campaign theme was about an alleged threat to the Maldives’ sovereignty by some Indian military personnel on an island, part of the party’s yearslong “India out” strategy.
Solih insisted that the Indian military’s presence in the Maldives was only to build a dockyard under an agreement between the two governments and that his country’s sovereignty won’t be violated.
The number of Indian troops in the Maldives is unknown. Critics say the secrecy behind the agreement between the two governments regarding the placement of military personnel and their role has led to suspicion and rumor. Known activities of the Indian military include operating two helicopters donated by India and assisting in the rescue of people stranded or faced with calamities at sea.
Former President Abdulla Yameen, leader of the People’s National Congress, made the Maldives a part of China’s Belt and Road initiative during his presidency from 2013 to 2018. The initiative is meant to build railroads, ports and highways to expand trade — and China’s influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe.
Yameen was transferred Sunday from prison to house arrest, already fulfilling one of Muiz’s campaign promises before he officially takes office on Nov. 17.
The Maldives is made up of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean, located by the main shipping route between the East and the West.