By Manash Pratim Bhuyan
New Delhi, Oct 28 (PTI) India played a "positive" role in restoration of democracy in Maldives by "exerting pressure" on the ruling regime, and the new government in the island nation would be "sensitive" towards New Delhi's "concerns", former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom said Sunday.
Nearly a month after he was released from jail, Gayoom, who ruled Maldives for three decades until 2008, said the government of President Abdulla Yameen inflicted "huge damage" on Maldives but democratic forces have prevailed over their "enemies".
Joint opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih came out victorious in the September 23 presidential election, handing a shock defeat to incumbent Yameen and capping months of political upheaval in the tourist paradise. The political turmoil was triggered by imposition of emergency in February and jailing of several of opposition leaders including Gayoom, a half brother of Yameen.
Yameen had challenged the outcome of the elections, alleging the vote was rigged but the country's Supreme Court upheld the results. The transition of power is due on Nov 17.
"The last few years did erode the credibility of Maldivian constitutional bodies as well as confidence of the Maldivian people in the state," 80-year-old Gayoom told PTI in an exclusive interview.
"However, the people have themselves taken remedial action as the election results have shown. There was huge damage done, but the constitution, the constitutional bodies and the citizen rights given by the constitution will be safe and strong under the new coalition government," he added.
Gayoom had ruled Maldives for 30 years till he was defeated in the country's first multi-party elections in 2008. He was arrested in February as part of crackdown on Yameen's political opponents.
Asked whether Yameen drew his strength from strong backing by China, Gayoom, credited with forging strong ties with India, hoped that China would respect the will of the Maldivian people.
"We value the support China has given for our development. However, we are concerned at the level of debt we have incurred in recent years, and feel this needs to be carefully reviewed and managed. I am sure that China would respect the will of the Maldivian people," he said in the e-mail interview.
Asked about India's role after imposition of emergency by Yameen in February, Gayoom said, "India did play a positive role, and along with other international partners, did exert pressure towards restoration of democracy."
"Keeping the Maldivian issue alive in international fora did result in putting pressure on the Yameen regime," the former Maldivian strongman, who was released from jail on September 30 following orders of a court, said.
India's ties with Maldives came under strain after Yameen declared Emergency in the country on February 5, following an order by the country's Supreme Court to release a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. The Emergency was lifted 45 days later.
"I do not see the events of the last few years having a lasting impact (on bilateral ties)...I do not think these bumps and turbulence would impact decades of (our) India first policy," he said.
Describing India as the "closest and most trusted ally" of Maldives, he said it was in the interests of all of the Maldives' geographical neighbours that there is stability in the Indian Ocean region.
"I am confident that the new government will work towards achieving this. We will be sensitive towards the concerns of India as well as of other friends," he said, adding Maldives was looking forward to welcoming Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Maldives "very soon".
During the crisis, India had ignored calls for military intervention from the opposition parties in the island nation.
The influence of China on Maldives, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, considered a backyard of India, has been growing and it is seen as a concern in New Delhi.
Talking about post election scenario, Gayoom said the first priority of the new government would be to unify the people of Maldives after the era of bitter politics
"Maldivians saw through attempts to muzzle democratic voice and defeated the forces who tried to undermine democracy and rule of law in the country," he said.
Asked about transition of power, Gayoom said the Maldivian Supreme Court has clearly stated that there was no grounds for Yameen to question the results of the presidential elections.
"The road is now clear for a smooth transition. The coalition government is committed to peace, stability, progress and democracy," he said.
He also talked about his efforts to bring multi-party democracy to Maldives in 2008 in sync with the aspirations of the people, adding the constitution had all the checks and balance that are required to safeguard democracy.
"It is indeed sad that these very checks and balance were abused to derail democracy to protect the vested interests of a few," he said.
"It is my hope that we learn from past mistakes and move beyond the blame game, and work together for the good of our citizens and country," he added. PTI MPB ABH