Litmus test for President Muizzu as Maldives goes to polls amidst regional power dynamics

     Male, Apr 21 (PTI) Maldivians on Sunday cast their ballots in a crucial parliamentary election, seen as a litmus test for President Mohamed Muizzu, whose policies are being closely monitored by both India and China amidst regional power dynamics.
     According to information released by the Elections Commission (EC), 181,406 people cast their ballots as of 4:00 pm local time, making for a voter turnout of 63.73 per cent. This includes 88,230 women and 93,176 men. About 284,000 people were eligible to vote.
     A total of 602 ballot boxes have been set up in the Maldives and three other countries for the parliamentary election. Polling stations are also open in 34 resorts, prisons, and other industrial islands. The countries in which ballot boxes are placed for voting are Thiruvananthapuram in India, Colombo in Sri Lanka and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, reported.
     Parliamentarians will be elected to a total of 93 constituencies, with 368 candidates contesting from six parties, including Muizzu’s People’s National Congress (PNC) and the main opposition the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and as independents.
     Muizzu cast his vote at the polling station in Thaajuddin School at 8:40 am. Speaking to reporters after casting the ballot, he urged every citizen to exercise their right to vote as soon as possible, newsportal reported.
     "Voting is a constitutional right and responsibility afforded to every citizen. All citizens should come out and exercise their right to vote as soon as possible. It is the responsibility of eligible voters to not wait until evening and quickly attend their respective polling stations to cast ballots," he said.
     No major issues or complaints were noted during the voting, the EC said.
     "Nothing major has been noted as a complaint up until now. There have been complaints about showing ballot papers. That is, complaints about ballots put in the box without being folded," Hassan Zakariyya, EC member and spokesperson, was quoted as saying by Adhadhu news portal.
     Such complaints have also been few, he said.
     Former President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who now serves as a top advisor at the main opposition MDP, cast his ballot at a polling station in Male. Speaking to reporters outside the polling station, Solih says he sees MDP winning a clear majority in the election, news portal reported.
     “We hope the MDP will be able to secure a good majority by the end of today’s voting. We have been seeing this happening today and during the campaign,” he said.
     The election is crucial for Muizzu, seen as a pro-China politician, as just a few days ahead of the polls, the opposition parties demanded a probe and impeachment of the president following a leaked report of his alleged corruption from 2018, a charge dismissed by him. Besides, since Muizzu came to office, lawmakers have blocked three of his nominees to the cabinet.
     Local media reports have highlighted that a political storm started on Monday with an anonymous handle ‘Hassan Kurusee’ posting on social media X leaked intelligence reports, including documents prepared by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Maldives Monetary Authority and the Maldives Police Service that allegedly linked Muizzu to corruption.
     The allegations soon created a political storm with the opposition MDP and People's National Front (PNF) demanding an investigation into the matter. The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) also demanded Muizzu’s impeachment following the leaked intelligence reports.
     The election in the Maldives also came amidst deteriorating ties between the archipelago nation and India since Muizzu, 45, assumed power in November last year. During last year's presidential election, he had maintained a strident anti-India stand.
     While India was forced to withdraw most of its military personnel manning three aviation platforms in the country, Muizzu travelled to China in January and met top Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping. China and the Maldives also signed a defence cooperation agreement and several other infrastructure development projects.
     The Maldives is India’s key maritime neighbour in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and occupies a special place in its initiatives like ‘SAGAR’ (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and the ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’ of the Indian government. On the other hand, China is expanding its footprints in IOR through its 'debt trap' diplomacy and ‘String of Pearls' approach, a strategic initiative to create a network of military and commercial establishments in countries falling on the Indian Ocean.

(This story has not been edited by THE WEEK and is auto-generated from PTI)