Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's Failed Presidency in the Maldives.

The Maldives is heading to a runoff election on September 30, 2023, after none of the candidates secured more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round held on September 9. The incumbent president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who is seeking re-election, will face Mohamed Muizzu, the vice president of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), which is backed by former president Abdulla Yameen. The question that many Maldivians are asking is whether Solih deserves a second term, or whether he has failed to deliver on his promises and address the challenges facing the nation.

Solih came to power in 2018, after defeating Yameen in a surprise victory that ended five years of authoritarian rule (allegedly). Solih promised to restore democracy, fight corruption, improve the economy, and balance the foreign relations of the Maldives. However, after nearly five years in office, Solih’s administration has been plagued by multiple crises and controversies that have undermined his credibility and performance.

One of the most prominent issues facing Solih’s administration is its heavy dependence on India for financial and security assistance. Since coming to power, Solih has adopted an ‘India First’ policy, which has resulted in several agreements and initiatives with India, such as a $1.4 billion financial assistance package, a currency swap agreement, a defense cooperation agreement, and various infrastructure projects. While these agreements have provided some benefits to the Maldives, such as improving connectivity, health care, and human resource development, they have also raised concerns about the Maldives’ sovereignty and autonomy. The presence of Indian military personnel and assets in the Maldives, such as helicopters, radars, and patrol vessels, has sparked debates among Maldivian politicians and civil society regarding potential threats to the nation’s independence and territorial integrity. Moreover, the Maldives’ alignment with India has also strained its relations with other regional powers, such as China and Pakistan, which have accused India of interfering in the Maldives’ internal affairs.

Another major challenge faced by Solih’s administration is the allegations of corruption and nepotism within the government. Critics argue that Solih has favored family members and close associates in government appointments and contract awards, violating the principles of merit and transparency. For instance, Solih’s brother-in-law Mohamed Shainee was appointed as the Minister of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, while his nephew Ahmed Nasir was appointed as the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, several contracts for infrastructure projects funded by India were awarded to companies owned or linked to Solih’s family members or political allies, such as Island Expert Pvt Ltd and Gulf Cobla Pvt Ltd. These allegations have eroded public trust in the government and hindered effective governance.

A third challenge faced by Solih’s administration is the rampant mismanagement across various government bodies. Inefficiencies and a lack of transparency have hindered the effective functioning of key institutions, impacting service delivery and public welfare. For example, the Auditor General’s Office has reported several cases of irregularities, wastage, and fraud in various ministries and agencies, such as the Ministry of Tourism, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, the Maldives Police Service, and the Maldives Immigration. Moreover, the administration has failed to implement adequate measures to ensure accountability and oversight over these institutions, such as strengthening anti-corruption laws, establishing independent commissions, and conducting regular audits.

A fourth challenge faced by Solih’s administration is the severe government debt crisis. The administration has incurred high levels of public debt due to its high spending without commensurate economic benefits. The nation’s debt-to-GDP ratio has reached unsustainable levels, reaching 140 percent in 2020. This poses significant risks to the country’s financial stability, as it increases its vulnerability to external shocks, such as fluctuations in global commodity prices, exchange rates, interest rates, and tourism demand. The administration’s failure to manage this crisis has resulted in increased economic vulnerability.

A fifth challenge faced by Solih’s administration is the lack of substantial infrastructure development initiatives. Despite significant spending, the administration has failed to deliver substantial infrastructure development initiatives that would improve the country’s economic prospects and living standards. The administration has focused on small-scale projects that have limited impact or feasibility, such as building artificial islands, constructing bridges, or renovating airports. These projects have also been plagued by delays, cost overruns, or poor quality. The administration has neglected more urgent and strategic infrastructure needs, such as improving water supply, sanitation5, waste management, renewable energy, transportation, health care facilities, education facilities, and disaster resilience.

The final challenge faced by Solih’s administration is the COVID-19 pandemic, which has hit the Maldives hard. The Maldives has reported over 186,000 coronavirus cases and 316 deaths as of September 23, 20233. While the figures have remained relatively low for the most part, COVID-19 cases jumped to a record high in January 2023 due to the emergence of the Omicron variant, with a record 18,665 confirmed cases in one week. The administration has struggled to contain the spread of the virus, despite imposing travel restrictions, lockdowns, and curfews. The administration has also faced criticism for its slow and uneven vaccination campaign, which has only covered about 60 percent of the population as of September 2023. The pandemic has also severely affected the tourism sector, which is the main source of income and employment for the Maldives. The tourism arrivals have dropped by more than 50 percent in 2020 and 2021 compared to pre-pandemic levels, resulting in huge losses for the industry and the economy.

In conclusion, Solih’s administration has failed to address the multiple challenges facing the nation, and has jeopardized its economic stability and sovereignty. Solih has not delivered on his promises of restoring democracy, fighting corruption, improving the economy, and balancing the foreign relations of the Maldives. Instead, he has relied on India for financial and security assistance, favored his family members and allies in government affairs, mismanaged various government bodies, incurred high levels of public debt, failed to deliver substantial infrastructure development initiatives, and struggled to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, Solih does not deserve a second term as president, and Maldivians should vote for a change in leadership that can secure the nation’s future.

- Ahmed, Aishath. 2023. "Maldives' COVID-19 cases hit record high amid Omicron surge." Maldives Times, January 10. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Ali, Mohamed. 2021. "Maldives' debt-to-GDP ratio reaches 140 percent." The Edition, December 31. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Anand, Geeta. 2020. "India and China vie for influence in the Maldives." The New York Times, August 31. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Auditor General's Office. 2021. "Annual Report 2020." Auditor General's Office, Maldives. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Ministry of Tourism. 2021. "Tourism Statistics: Annual Report 2020." Ministry of Tourism, Maldives. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Naseer, Mohamed. 2019. "India-Maldives defence cooperation agreement signed." Raajje.mv, December 14. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Rasheed, Zaheena. 2018. "Maldives signs $1.4bn currency swap deal with India." Al Jazeera, December 17. Accessed September 23, 2023. 
- Zahir, Ahmed. 2019. "Solih's family and allies benefit from India-funded projects." Mihaaru, October 20. Accessed September 23, 2023.

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