Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s close India ties dominated the campaign trail on the eve of Saturday’s election run-off in the island nation, with frontrunner and Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu promising to “safeguard the country’s independence and sovereignty”.

The first round of the Presidential polls in the Maldives was held on September 9, 2023, but all candidates failed to garner the required vote share of over 50 per cent, leading to a run-off.

The Opposition People’s National Congress — Progressive Party of Maldives combine’s candidate Mohamed Muizzu secured the highest vote share, of 46.06 per cent while incumbent Solih trailed behind him, with 39.05 per cent of the ballot.

Meanwhile, Maldivians will also get to decide if they want to switch to a parliamentary system of governance, in a referendum scheduled next month. New Delhi will closely watch the poll outcome on Friday, to see if its ties with Male will see continuity.

Renewed poll promise

Muizzu’s renewed poll promise on the Maldives’s “independence” — apart from enhanced housing and economic growth — is a direct attack on Solih’s ‘India first’ foreign policy, and takes off from the opposition’s ‘India Out’ campaign, spearheaded by former President Abdulla Yameen.

The now-jailed leader, known for his China tilt, campaigned hard to mobilise support on the issue, but couldn’t run for the country’s top office after the country’s Supreme Court barred him, citing his criminal conviction.

Apparently, rebutting the Opposition’s consistent attack on the Solih administration for “allowing Indian military presence”, Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid in a recent interview to local media said that the controversial helicopters and Dornier airplanes gifted by the Indian government were handed over during the time of previous governments. “The people of the Maldives have sharper minds, and know better than to fall into the trap of lies spread by the opposition,” he was quoted as saying by Male-based The Edition on Friday.   

Muizzu, who was concluding his campaign on Friday, told local media: “If the people give me the opportunity, I will establish peace and safeguard our freedom”.