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Sunday, December 10, 2023

Pro-China winner in Maldives vows to unite archipelago

The president-elect of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, said he wanted to unite the Indian Ocean archipelago after divisive polls that saw the pro-Beijing leader vow to rebalance relations with New Delhi.

“No matter their political affiliation, they are all Maldivian citizens in front of me,” Muizzu told supporters after his win late Saturday.

“They are entitled to the same rights. They are entitled to equality in everything.”

There was no immediate reaction from China to his win, but India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Muizzu on Sunday.

New Delhi is “committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship”, Modi said in a post on the social media platform X.

The Maldives, a chain of atolls scattered 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator better known for its upmarket beach resorts, sits in a strategically vital position astride one of the world’s busiest east-west shipping lanes.

Muizzu, 45, won 54 percent of the vote in the run-off contest, prompting incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to concede defeat shortly before midnight on Saturday.

“He has started work on drawing up his team”, a source close to Muizzu said Sunday. “He wants a smooth, peaceful transition”.

Solih, 61, who will serve as caretaker president until his successor is inaugurated on November 17, declared the usual working day of Sunday a holiday.

Streets were quiet across the island capital Male on Sunday morning.

Muizzu told a meeting with Chinese Communist Party officials last year that his party’s return to office would “script a further chapter of strong ties between our two countries”.

The result upends Solih’s efforts to revert the country’s diplomatic posture back towards New Delhi since taking office five years ago.

There was no immediate reaction from Solih to Muizzu’s request to free his mentor and former president Abdulla Yameen from prison and confine him to house arrest in the capital.

Muizzu was a proxy candidate of Yameen, who is serving an 11-year sentence for corruption when he was in power between 2013 and 2018.

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