The Maldives is set to have its Presidential election on September 9. But in sharp contrast to the 2018 Presidential poll, this time round it is hazardous to make predictions about the result.

There is now a multiplicity of candidates, major parties are split, and there is no outstanding candidate.

A first-round victory of a candidate with the required 50% plus one vote, is not assured. A run-off is more likely, and the result of that will be equally unpredictable.

The incumbent President, Ibrahim Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), is seeking a second term. But the MDP is split, with parliament Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed quitting and floating a new party called the “Democrats”. The Democrats have put up Ilyas Labeeb as its Presidential candidate.

The main opposition party, the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) led by former President Abdulla Yameen has also split with one faction forming the Peoples’ National Congress (PNC) and putting up Dr.Mohamed Muizzu, the Mayor of Male, as its candidate.

Since the PPM is associated with former President Abdulla Yameen, who is in jail for corruption and is barred from contesting, the PNC was founded to contest the September 9 election. Though the Yameen faction in the PPM has pledged support to PNC, many of its members who are very close to Yameen, find it difficult to switch their loyalty to Muizzu. Therefore, there are doubts about full support to Muizzu from his former colleagues in the PPM.

Muizzu himself got his nomination from the PNC with a razor-thin majority of two votes. His support base is therefore not so strong.  He is also said to have made money as Yameen’s Housing Minister though he has won kudos for his drive as a Minister and Mayor.

The “Democrats” had approached the PPM and the PMC for support to their candidate Ilyas Labeeb to defeat the common enemy Solih. But given the PPM’s strong antagonism towards Nasheed, these advances were spurned.

To complicate matters, there are other candidates too. These are former Ministers Mohamed Nazim and Umar Naseer fighting as Independents;  tycoon Qasim Ibrahim (Jhumhoory Party); and Faris Maumoon, a son of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, fighting as an Independent,

Though none of these candidates have a chance of winning, they could force a second round of voting called runoff. Among these Faris Maumoon was impressive in the Presidential debate on TV.

Strengths and Weaknesses  

Incumbent President Solih’s strengths are his moderation and his ability to keep a good relationship with India, his principal international supporter, and also China, a major investor in Maldives.

However, Solih’s administration has been lacklustre, though he launched major India-financed infrastructure projects. The country’s economic performance has not been bright, though not entirely due to his government. World conditions also impacted adversely.

According to the World Bank report of 2022, increased infrastructure investments were financed through non-concessional sources. And sovereign guarantees had introduced fiscal vulnerabilities. The government turned to domestic financing due to the rising cost of external borrowing, which crowded out private credits. The government faces external debt servicing payments of US$ 393 million on average over the next three years amidst tightening global financing conditions.

The country’s total debt is US$ 1 billion according to Solih, but US$ 2 billion according to the opposition. He seems to have no known plan to bring the debt down

President Solih pledged to tackle corruption and advance human rights, but in reality, failed to bring essential reforms to the justice system, says the Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The influence of Islamist extremist groups remained pervasive within the Solih government, police, and the judiciary, HRW adds.

In June, Islamist extremists disrupted a gathering of 150 people, including diplomats and government officers, at an International Yoga Day event in the capital, Male. They deemed the event heretical.

On July 31, the US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated key leaders and financial facilitators of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and al-Qa’ida in the Maldives, including 20 ISIS, ISIS-Khorasan (ISIS-K), and al-Qa’ida operatives. The OFAC also designated 29 companies associated with the individuals sanctioned.

Mohamed Muizzu

PNC candidate Dr. Muizzu’s strengths are his reputation as an efficient administrator of infrastructure projects under President Yameen and his good work as Male’s Mayor.

Muizzu pointed to challenges faced by the elderly in finding a means of income after retirement and announced that citizens between the ages of 65 and 75 would be offered contractual work, renewable on a yearly basis, besides a pension and an allowance of MVR 5,000.

His appeal to the Islamic constituency is also a plus point in an avowedly Islamic Maldives. He was once with the Islamic Adaalath Party but joined the PPM only to become a Minister in Yameen’s government.

Muizzu has pledged to declare the last 10 days of Ramadan each year as public holidays to enable public employees to embark on Umrah (pilgrimage to Mecca) without taking additional leave.

In addition to reinforcing Islamic principles within his government,  Muizzu pledged to forge stronger bilateral relationships with Islamic countries, especially Arab nations.

A Muizzu Presidency could therefore worry New Delhi. China will also not be pleased with Muizzu because he is not openly pro-Beijing unlike his former chief Yameen. He has portrayed himself as a middle roader in the context of Sino-Indian rivalry in the Maldives.

In fact, in this election, the Sino-Indian issue has taken a backseat in the election campaign. Both India and China do not appear to be involved in the campaign.

Ilyas Labeeb

Ilyas Labeeb of the Democrats is close to the Democrats’ founder Mohamed Nasheed. This is at once a blessing and a drawback because Nasheed has been brazenly controversial while being popular.

Nasheed wants to change the Maldivian constitution from the Presidential to the Westminster system and is a diehard secularist. But both are problematic issues in conservative cum Islamic  Maldives.

Labeeb is a computer science graduate from Coventry University, UK. He combines technical expertise with a deep passion for public service, making him a dynamic leader. He had served as the Chair of the State-Owned Enterprises Committee, playing a vital role in overseeing the efficient management of public enterprises. He hopes to tap into the votes of the 30-40 age group, which has traditionally supported Nasheed.