from Asia Unbound

Maldives Election: Weekend Reading

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen and China's President Xi Jinping attend a signing meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on December 7, 2017. Fred Dufour/Pool/Reuters

Ahead of Sunday's election in the Maldives, read up on the issues facing the island nation, including democratic backsliding, corruption, and geopolitical competition between China and India.

September 21, 2018

Maldives President Abdulla Yameen and China's President Xi Jinping attend a signing meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China on December 7, 2017. Fred Dufour/Pool/Reuters
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On Sunday, September 23, the Maldives will hold a national election that has observers concerned about the country’s direction. The “island nation,” an archipelago of around 1,200 islands in the middle of the Indian Ocean, stands on a major fault line between democracy and authoritarianism.

The country’s president, Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom—often described as a “strongman” or “hard-liner”—has pulled the country backward on the path to democracy. As Human Rights Watch puts it, “Increasingly autocratic measures by the Maldives president…who took office following a disputed election in 2013, are eroding fundamental human rights in the island country, including freedom of association, expression, peaceful assembly, and political participation.”  

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Indo-Pacific

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As important, the Maldives sits at the heart of Indian Ocean geopolitics.

It is often described as a “battleground” for influence between China and India. The Maldives has historically retained close ties with India but in recent years has grown more enmeshed with China as a result of China’s infrastructure financing. Such methods of infrastructure financing have led to a dramatic increase in the national debt, as in other South Asian countries like Sri Lanka and Pakistan. As a Center for Global Development in-depth analysis notes, “the country is considered by the World Bank and the [International Monetary Fund] to be at a high risk of debt distress due to its vulnerability to exogenous shocks.”

What’s more, a recent investigative report from the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project chronicled widespread corruption in the country linked to deals leasing islands for tourism.

And, of course, hovering in the background of all these political problems is the existential question of climate change, sea level rise, and the Maldives’ future.

In advance of Sunday’s vote, here are a few readings to provide in-depth background on the crises this country faces.

More on:

Maldives

Indo-Pacific

Democracy

China

India

My book about India’s rise on the world stage, Our Time Has Come: How India Is Making Its Place in the World, was published by Oxford University Press in January. Follow me on Twitter: @AyresAlyssa. Or like me on Facebook (fb.me/ayresalyssa) or Instagram (instagr.am/ayresalyssa).

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