New Maldivian President Takes Oath of Office
Thousands gathered at Galolhu National Stadium in Malé, the capital of Maldives, as Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a longtime lawmaker, took the presidential oath of office during his inauguration on November 17. Solih’s running mate, Faisal Naseem, was also sworn in as vice president.
The Elections Commission (EC) announced on June 7 that the presidential election would take place on September 23. Responding to calls from the European Union (EU) and other Western states for Maldives to carry out a “credible, transparent, and inclusive election process,” Ahmed Shareef, the chair of the EC, said that the upcoming vote would distinguish itself from past ones and set a new precedent by being “fully trusted by the people.”
To promote such transparency, Shareef said that Maldives would invite eight observers representing other countries, the EU, and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and allow them to monitor the polling process. However, Mohamed Nasheed, an exiled former-president, argued that the EC deliberately withheld issuing invitations to foreign election observers “until the last possible moment.”
Now-outgoing President Abdulla Yameen’s increasingly authoritarian rule, which included a crackdown on prominent political dissidents in 2017, led the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to unite with the Jumhooree Party (JP) and Adhaalath Party. In hopes of foiling Yameen’s re-election efforts, the three parties formed an opposition coalition in which they all agreed to field a common ticket.
Initially, the MDP’s proposed presidential candidate was Nasheed, who obtained around 40,000 votes in an uncontested May primary. The EC, however, ruled that he was ineligible to run in the September national election due to a past 13-year prison sentence. Nasheed was convicted of terrorism in May 2015 for ordering the arrest of a sitting judge, but rights groups such as Amnesty International have criticized his trial as being “deeply flawed and politically motivated.”
Ultimately, Nasheed gave up his seat on the MDP’s ticket in late June, thereby appeasing several coalition members’ demands for a “clean pair” of candidates. To replace him, Solih was appointed as MDP’s new presidential candidate in a unanimous vote by the party’s 791 delegates. Naseem became Solih’s running mate in mid-July after narrowly securing the JP’s support in a 15-14 secret-ballot vote.
On September 29, the EC published the final official tally, with Solih receiving 58.4 percent of the vote. Solih’s decisive victory surprised many who feared that the process would be rigged heavily in favor of the incumbent, Yameen.
Despite initially conceding defeat, Yameen petitioned the Supreme Court on October 10, requesting that the results be annulled. He also sought the launch of an official probe to investigate potential electoral fraud. On October 21, the full bench ruled unanimously to reject Yameen’s petition, citing a lack of evidence. Yameen declined to attend Solih’s inauguration and maintained that his supporters “have not received justice to date.”
Nasheed returned from exile overseas to attend the ceremony. Also present were other past presidents and foreign dignitaries, including India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi. With the defeat of pro-China Yameen, who borrowed millions in infrastructure loans from the Export-Import Bank of China, Solih and Modi hope to renew strong bilateral ties between their countries.
Solih faces many challenges, including managing Maldives’ massive debt, eliminating a pervasive “culture of corruption,” and balancing relations with India and China. Nonetheless, he underscored in his inaugural address the new administration’s potential to be a “second chance for democracy” by reiterating his commitment to restoring constitutional rights, ensuring an independent judiciary, and investigating “unaccountable deaths and disappearances.”