Monday, October 9, 2023

Dr. Muizzu's presidency and the future of the Maldives

On September 30, 2023, Dr. Mohamed Muizzu was elected as the new President of the Maldives, marking a historic moment for the nation. Dr. Muizzu, former Housing Minister under President Abdulla Yameen, secured a significant victory over the incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, obtaining 54% of the vote, while Solih garnered 46%. This election marked the end of Solih's five-year term, which was marred by allegations of corruption, mismanagement, and external interference.

Dr. Muizzu campaigned on a nationalist platform, pledging to restore the sovereignty and dignity of the Maldives, which he asserted had been compromised during Solih's tenure. He also committed to revitalizing the Maldivian economy, which had suffered due to the adverse effects of tourism-related lockdowns, the primary source of income and foreign exchange for the island nation.

With a clear vision and a capable team, Dr. Muizzu aims to guide the Maldives through the challenges it faces and usher in a new era of prosperity and stability. His comprehensive agenda comprises 19 pivotal projects that are set to reshape the development landscape, with a particular focus on Malé City, the capital and most populous city in the country. These projects are organized around three overarching themes: ensuring economic stability, catalyzing a revolutionary transformation, and fostering economic expansion.

Nonetheless, Dr. Muizzu is not without his share of challenges, both domestically and internationally, that could potentially complicate his efforts. These include:

1. The Middle East conflict, which could impact the Maldives' security, stability, and prosperity.
2. Managing the presence of foreign workers, who constitute approximately 25% of the population, posing social and economic complexities.
3. Resolving ongoing disputes over Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) with Mauritius since 2010.
4. Tackling the high national debt, which reached 107.5% of GDP in 2020, primarily due to extensive infrastructure projects funded by external loans.
5. Averting a looming debt crisis, with projected annual debt obligations of $1 billion by 2026.
6. Addressing congestion and pollution issues in Malé City, which suffers from inadequate housing, water supply, sanitation, and waste management.
7. Dealing with land and apartment allotment concerns in the Greater Malé region, leading to protests and complaints from residents who feel excluded or unjustly evicted.
8. Navigating the strategic interests of both India and China, two influential nations with competing investments in the Maldives.
9. Managing the recovery from COVID-19, which has adversely affected the health and livelihoods of many Maldivians.

Strategies to Address These Challenges

Dr. Muizzu must tread carefully, avoiding taking sides in the Middle East conflict or antagonizing any influential powers that could obstruct his economic recovery plans or political stability. He will also need to contend with opposition from Solih's party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which retains a majority in parliament and could seek to impede or delay his policies.

Dr. Muizzu has signaled his intent to pursue a pro-Maldives foreign policy, departing from Solih's tilt toward India. Concurrently, he has expressed support for Palestine and condemnation of Israel's actions, potentially impacting relations with key partners and donors, who maintain close ties with Israel and oppose Iran's role in the region.

Simultaneously, Dr. Muizzu aims to enhance relations with India based on mutual respect for sovereignty and plans to restructure the repayment of loans acquired during Solih's administration from India.

Furthermore, addressing the welfare of foreign workers residing and working in the Maldives will be a priority, ensuring they receive fair treatment, access to essential services such as healthcare and education, protection from exploitation, and integration into Maldivian society.

Resolution of the EEZ disputes with Mauritius, crucial for maritime security and resource management, will demand dialogue and negotiation to reach a mutually acceptable solution that safeguards the Maldives' sovereignty and interests.

Dr. Muizzu's fiscal challenges include reducing the nation's debt burden, a task necessitating a pragmatic approach, improved revenue collection through tax system enhancements, and prudent expenditure management by prioritizing essential needs and eliminating wasteful spending.

To avert a looming debt crisis, Dr. Muizzu must skillfully manage the nation's debt through negotiations with creditors to extend maturities, lower interest rates, or restructure loan principals, while also seeking debt relief or forgiveness from friendly nations and international organizations.

Addressing congestion and pollution in Malé City demands significant investments in infrastructure and services, including affordable housing, water network expansion, sewerage system upgrades, and a comprehensive solid waste management strategy. Promoting public transportation and renewable energy adoption will further enhance urban sustainability.

Addressing land and apartment allotment concerns requires a thorough review of existing policies and procedures to ensure transparency, fairness, and inclusivity, coupled with active engagement with residents to address grievances adequately.

Balancing the strategic interests of India and China, both of which have substantial influence and investments in the Maldives, is crucial to safeguard national sovereignty and independence from external pressures or interference.

Finally, managing the post-COVID-19 recovery involves securing adequate vaccines and medical supplies, supporting the tourism sector through eased travel restrictions and improved health protocols, and revitalizing education and social services disrupted by the pandemic.

Transformative Potential of Dr. Muizzu's 19 Pivotal Projects

Dr. Muizzu's vision, accompanied by a competent team, promises to guide the Maldives towards a brighter future through 19 transformative initiatives. These initiatives will particularly reshape the development landscape of Malé City, the nation's capital and most populous area, focusing on three key themes: economic stability, revolutionary transformation, and economic expansion.

Among the notable commitments within these projects are:

- The construction of 65,000 flats in the Greater Malé region, offering affordable housing solutions and alleviating congestion and pollution.
- The target of increasing Maldives' GDP to MVR 150 billion in the next five years, thus enhancing living standards and reducing poverty.
- The ambitious goal of reducing public debt to single digits while raising gross reserves to USD 1 billion to ensure fiscal sustainability and resilience.
- A comprehensive approach to bolstering the tourism sector through relaxed travel regulations, improved health protocols, and effective promotion of the Maldives as a tourist destination.
- Strategic investments in climate-resilient infrastructure, renewable energy, marine conservation, and waste management to safeguard the environment and natural resources.
- A commitment to enhance public services, particularly in healthcare, education, and social protection, to improve service quality and efficiency.
- Encouragement of private sector growth and competitiveness through improved business environments, strengthened governance and institutions, promotion of innovation and digitalization, and support for small businesses, all contributing to job creation and opportunities.
- Strengthening regional cooperation and integration with neighboring countries to expand trade, tourism, and connectivity, thereby broadening the market and network for the Maldives.

These projects are anticipated to have a profound positive impact on the Maldives' economic, social, and environmental development. They are expected to create employment opportunities, particularly for youth and women, enhance the quality and efficiency of public services in healthcare, education, and social protection, and contribute to the preservation of the nation's natural resources.

Dr. Muizzu, along with his dedicated team, has diligently formulated these transformative projects (undoubtedly) with the invaluable support and cooperation of various stakeholders, including local councils, the private sector, civil society, and the international community. Ensuring transparency, accountability, and inclusivity has been at the forefront of their efforts, ensuring that these projects align with the needs and aspirations of the Maldivian people.

As citizens of the Maldives, it is our duty to acknowledge and stand behind Dr. Muizzu and his team as they endeavor to shape our nation through these 19 pivotal projects. We should actively participate and contribute to these initiatives by offering our feedback, suggestions, and ideas. Additionally, we must vigilantly monitor and evaluate these projects, holding our leaders accountable for their performance and outcomes.

Dr. Muizzu's presidency marks a pivotal moment in the Maldives' history. His strategic vision, accompanied by a dedicated team and transformative projects, has the potential to usher in a brighter future for the nation, addressing numerous challenges and revitalizing key sectors of the economy. It is now incumbent upon the citizens of the Maldives to actively engage in and support these initiatives, thereby contributing to the nation's growth and prosperity.

I extend my heartfelt prayers for Dr. Muizzu's success and well-being during his forthcoming presidential term. I wish him and team the best of luck in fulfilling their ambitious development commitments for the Maldivian people. May Allah bless Dr. Muizzu and team, and may our nation thrive as a result. Ameen.

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