Maldives Ruling Party Pledges Probe Into Chinese Deals After Landslide Win

April 10, 2019 Updated: April 10, 2019

MALE, Maldives—Maldives former President Mohamed Nasheed, whose party won a landslide in the archipelago’s parliamentary election, on April 9 pledged to conduct a thorough probe into deals with China.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is set to secure 65 seats in the 87-member parliament, giving it a clear majority to push for reforms including imposing the country’s first income tax and instituting a minimum wage for the first time.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who is also from the MDP and unseated pro-China leader Abdulla Yameen in September 2018, had urged voters to back his call for an investigation the scale of debts to China, which the party fears could run as high as $3 billion and risks sinking the economy.

The Indian Ocean island chain has been caught in a battle for influence between India and China, which invested millions of dollars during Yameen’s rule as part of its One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative, designed to improve Beijing’s global trade reach.

The OBOR initiative is aimed at building a vast network of infrastructure connecting China to Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, and beyond, much like the ancient Silk Road.

Yameen denies any wrongdoing in relation to the Chinese debt.

Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader between 2008 and 2011 before being forced to step down in a police mutiny, said the result was “a clear mandate to implement” the party’s pledges.

“Some of the first bills that the new parliament must consider is the pending legislation to fully empower the presidential commission on stolen assets, and deaths and disappearances,” MDP leader Nasheed told Reuters in the capital, Male.

“The government continues to scrutinize the deals signed by the previous government, many of which, we fear, were subject to large scale corruption. We must allow the government to examine these deals with forensic detail.”

Final provisional results for the election will officially be confirmed on Wednesday, an Elections Commission official told Reuters.

The MDP is just one seat shy of the three-quarters quorum required to amend the constitution in the People Majlis or Parliament. This is the first time a party has had such a majority since the first multi-party elections in 2008. The MDP previously ruled in coalition.

The new Parliament is expected to be inaugurated in May.

Yameen recently spent more than a month in police custody over a graft scandal aimed at siphoning money from the islands’ tourism board. He was released on bail on March 28 in time for the last week of campaigning, and denies the charges.

The Maldives, a string of palm-fringed islands and atolls lying 325 miles southwest of the southern tip of India, is best known as a luxury holiday destination.

China has helped build an extension to the international airport in the Maldives, and a bridge linking it Male.

The Chinese investment in Maldives is seen as part of its “String of Pearls” strategy, developing a network of friendly ports in the region from Sri Lanka to Pakistan.

India and Western nations have worried that the strategy ultimately aims to help China‘s military extend its reach.

By Mohamed Junayd