Victor in Male

Delhi has stakes in stability in the Maldives. It must prepare to engage with its new government

The surprise result of the presidential run-off in the Maldives has put Abdulla Yameen in office, reversing the trend in the first round held on November 9, in which former president Mohamed Nasheed had secured 47 per cent of the vote, falling just short of the 50 per cent needed to avoid the run-off. Yameen, half-brother of former strongman Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, campaigned on the religion and law-and-order planks, projecting himself as the "defender of Islam", and securing the support of like-minded parties in the run-off. Nasheed's defeat and Yameen's victory could effectively mean the return of the old order in Male.

Yet, Maldives has held a generally free and fair election as Indian observers have acknowledged and democracy has returned to the country. This is significant, given the Mohammed Waheed regime's attempts to prevent Nasheed's return to power after ousting him from office last year. The election held on September 7 was annulled and the re-run scheduled for October 19 could only be held on November 9. Then, the run-off the next day was cancelled. Nasheed himself has been gracious in defeat and pledged to strengthen democracy in the Maldives.

With a population of barely 3,30,000, but with a significant strategic location in the Indian Ocean, stability in the Maldives is integral to India's maritime security. New Delhi might have preferred Nasheed's return and the reversal of the cancellation of GMR's contract for the Male airport, among other things but it cannot afford to pick favourites in a democratic exercise in another country. It has welcomed Yameen's attempt to reach out to all stakeholders. It must engage with his regime now and stay engaged to pre-empt further crises. Delhi's role in nudging Male towards free and fair elections has contributed to this moment, just as its diplomacy had helped broker a "deal" earlier to prevent Nasheed's arrest. The turmoil, and Nasheed's seeking of refuge in the Indian mission, had compelled it to get involved. With high stakes in the region, and also as the pre-eminent regional power, Delhi cannot be a bystander in the internal crises of its neighbours. Now that the turbulence has passed, it must prepare to work with the Yameen government.

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