Challenges to Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu's leadership

World Monday 12/February/2024 11:14 AM
Challenges to Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu's leadership

New Delhi: Only 24 Maldives Members of Parliament (MPs) attended the opening session of the People's Majlis, where President Mohamed Muizzu delivered his first presidential address, Maldives-based online news outlet Adhadhu reported.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Democrats decided to boycott the sitting due to the "undemocratic ways of the government."

A total of 56 MPs boycotted the opening session. This includes 13 MPs from the Democrats and 44 MPs from the MDP.

Only 24 MPs were in attendance when the sitting began at 9:00 am.

MDP MP Speaker Mohamed Aslam chaired the sitting. He chaired the sitting despite calls by government MPs to recuse from presiding as a no-confidence motion had been moved against him, as per Adhadhu.

The government MPs have further moved a no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker Ahmed Saleem, who is also an MDP MP.

The opening on Monday was attended by Muizzu, first lady Sajidha Mohamed.

"President Dr @MMuizzu and First Lady Sajidha Mohamed attend the opening of the People's Majlis for the year 2024, where the President delivers his first Presidential Address," the Maldives President's Office wrote on 'X'.

The president, while delivering his address, said he has decided not to appoint more people to senior political positions given the country's current economic and financial situation, Maldives media outlet Mihaaru reported.

Muizzu said the main reason for the deficit and the increase in debt is the sharp increase in the government's expenditure relative to revenue.

With that, he said, the government has been forced to take measures to reduce operating expenditures, as per Mihaaru.

He said: “I have decided not to appoint any more people to senior political positions except in exceptional circumstances in order to reduce government expenditure.” ShareTweet

Earlier, on 23, December 2023, the two main opposition parties, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and The Democrats, in a joint press statement strongly condemned the government's recent shift towards an “anti-India” foreign policy.

They issued a joint statement labeling this move as “extremely detrimental” to the country’s long-term development. They stressed the importance of maintaining good relations with all development partners, especially India, the Maldives' “most long-standing ally.” Highlighting the interconnectedness of regional security, they stated that “stability and security in the Indian Ocean is vital to the stability and security of the Maldives.” Emphasizing the nation's historical approach to international relations, both parties urged the government to return to collaborating with all partners, prioritizing the well-being of the Maldivian people. They warned that departing from this established course could jeopardize the country's stability and progress.

The MDP kept mum on their Parliament boycott rationale while the Democrats objected to the reappointment of three ministers rejected by Parliament earlier.

This action follows recent protests against the Muizzu government for its foreign policy shift away from India and towards China. President Muizzu had requested the withdrawal of Indian troops, sparking both domestic and international concerns. Maldivian opposition parties criticized the move as detrimental to long-term development and security, especially considering the subsequent arrival of a Chinese research vessel. The opposition views this move as detrimental to the nation and emphasizes the importance of maintaining partnerships with all development partners for the Maldives” best interests.

Amid rising fiscal deficits and public debt, Maldives remains at a "high risk" of external and overall debt distress, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in its report.

This comes after an IMF mission led by Piyaporn Sodsriwiboon visited Male from January 23-February 6 to discuss recent economic developments and the country's policy priorities.

The report has highlighted that the Maldivian economy expanded by 13.9 per cent in 2022 and is estimated to grow by 4.4 per cent in 2023

"Following the pandemic-induced contraction, the Maldivian economy expanded by 13.9 per cent in 2022 and is estimated to grow by 4.4 per cent in 2023. As tourist arrivals are expected to rise further, growth is projected at 5.2 per cent in 2024," the report stated.

The global financial agency further pointed out that amid elevated fuel prices along with strong import demands, the current account deficit in 2024 is projected to remain 'large'.

"Without significant policy changes, the overall fiscal deficits and public debt are projected to stay elevated, and the Maldives remains at high risk of external and overall debt distress. Amid elevated fuel prices coupled with continued strong import demands, the current account deficit in 2024 is projected to remain large, albeit gradually narrowing over the medium term. The Maldives is highly vulnerable to climate change risks, with potentially severe economic costs due to floods and rising sea level," the report added.

According to the IMF, a sustained fiscal consolidation, accompanied by tighter monetary and macro-prudential policies is needed to reduce vulnerabilities and restore the sustainability of public finance and debt.

The Maldives is also "highly vulnerable" to climate change risks, with potentially severe economic costs due to floods and rising sea levels, as per the report.

The Global Financial Agency has suggested strengthening institutions to support climate adaptation and mitigation efforts that can help enable access to additional climate financing and deliver on the climate pledges.

Earlier on Monday, Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu addressed the parliament, in a session completely boycotted by the opposition.

Muizzu "underscored the necessity for the Maldives to fortify its military capabilities across terrestrial, aerial, and maritime domains as part of a comprehensive defence strategy."

The President also said that the "Maldivian government has officially communicated that it will not renew the agreement enabling foreign nations to measure and map the Maldivian oceans and coastlines."

Muizzu also stated that diplomatic negotiations were underway for the withdrawal of Indian troops. He detailed that, as agreed in the last negotiations, the military personnel on one of the three aviation platforms would be withdrawn before March 10, 2024, and the military personnel on the remaining two platforms would be withdrawn before May 10, 2024.

Notably, the removal of Indian troops in the Maldives was the main campaign of Muizzu's party. Currently, there are around 70 Indian troops, along with Dornier 228 maritime patrol aircraft and two HAL Dhruv helicopters, stationed in the Maldives.

The second meeting of the high-level core group between the Maldives and India took place in New Delhi last week. The third meeting is expected to take place later this month.