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Maldives: Pivot to India vs. Great Power Balancing

Maldives: Pivot to India vs. Great Power Balancing
Last weekend's electoral upset in the Maldives has led to some observers suggesting that the country will pivot away from China and towards India, while others believe that it'll try to balance between these Great Powers like how Sri Lanka has successfully done before it.

Opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won a whopping 17% more votes than incumbent President Abdulla Yameen in a heated election marked by fears of fraud and foreign patronage. The US and India previously expressed worry that Yameen would rig the vote in order to remain in power, while some Maldivians suspected that Solih was being backed by both of those Great Powers in a bid to remove their country's Chinese-friendly president.

It's true that Yameen is regarded as being very close to China after signing his country up to participate in the New Silk Road, which saw an infusion of Chinese capital and influence into the archipelago nation located just a few hundred miles south of India, while the rumors of foreign support for the opposition owed their origins to former President Nasheed's outspoken stance against China that sharply contrasts with his consistently positive comments about India. The country's previous leader was deposed during a political crisis that took place from 2011-2012 and was even jailed at one time on charges of supporting terrorism, but had since fled the country and is now living in exile in Sri Lanka.

Solih promised to strengthen his country's ties with India that noticeably frayed during the last years of Yameen's tenure as he drew closer to China. Something similar happened in Sri Lanka back in January 2015 after Chinese-friendly President Rajapaksa narrowly lost reelection and a very pro-Indian leader took power, but Beijing was able to prevent its other prized Silk Road partner from pivoting too strongly towards New Delhi through a combination of deft diplomacy and economic incentives.  The difference this time around, however, is that the Silk Road-supporting incumbent lost by a much larger margin in his less populated but more politically unstable island nation, so the outcome might not be the same this time around because of the different domestic factors at play.

Andrew Korybko discusses this topic with Abdul Ghani, citizen of the Maldives.

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