Less than a year after his election as President of the Maldives, incumbent Mohamed Muizzu will face his first major political test in Sunday’s parliamentary elections that will determine the extent of his control over Parliament or People’s Majlis.

In September 2023, President Muizzu, who emerged front runner from the opposition, ousted President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and rose to the country’s top office, predominantly on an anti-India poll plank. However, Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) controlled the majority in Parliament, making passage of laws harder for the newly-elected President. The parliamentary elections, earlier scheduled to be held on March 17, were postponed following an MDP-led vote in the legislature.

On Sunday, the Maldives will hold parliamentary elections for 93 constituencies across the island nation. Over 284,663 voters are eligible to vote across 602 polling stations, including three polling stations abroad. As many as 368 candidates are vying for a seat in the legislature, according to the Elections Commission of the Maldives.

Facing fragmentation

Since the run up to the presidential election last year, Maldives’ political landscape has witnessed considerable fragmentation. Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his supporters left the then ruling MDP to form the Democrats, while fissures between former President Abdulla Yameen and Muizzu became more pronounced.

Subsequently Yameen, who was earlier jailed on graft and money-laundering charges, formed a new party, the People’s National Front (PNF), and decided to field his own candidates. Some of them will contest as independent candidates, since the party could not be registered in time for the polls, local media reported.

Effectively, two major camps that dominated the Maldives’s political scene over the last five years have now split into four, in addition to other parties with a small parliamentary presence. Yameen was freed last week after the Maldives High Court overturned his conviction and 11-year prison sentence, deeming the lower court’s ruling unfair.

If the 2023 presidential poll was dominated by Muizzu’s “India Out” campaign, attacking Solih’s foreign policy, Sunday’s parliamentary elections will be fought on key domestic issues, according to political observers. Economic strain, employment, and crucial infrastructure development in the atolls are issues that have drawn attention in the campaign. In January this year, Adam Azim from the opposition MDP won the crucial mayoral election in capital Male by a huge margin, while the candidate from Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) lost.

(Meera Srinivasan is The Hindu Correspondent in Colombo)