New Delhi, Sept. 2: Three former election commission chiefs from India arrived in Male today to supervise the presidential election scheduled for September 7 in the Maldives, the tiny Indian Ocean island that is critical to New Delhi’s strategic interests.
J.M. Lyngdoh blocked Narendra Modi’s plans to advance elections in Gujarat after the 2002 riots. B.B. Tandon oversaw the October 2005 Bihar polls that saw Nitish Kumar return to power after a fractured mandate earlier that year led to President’s rule. And N. Gopalswami accused the Congress of interfering in the work of India’s apex poll watchdog.
The high-level team, which also includes former Indian high commissioner to the Maldives S.M. Govai, met Maldives election commission president Fuwad Taufeeq and other members at a reception hosted by high commissioner Rajeev Shahare.
“India is committed to strengthening the institutions of democracy in the Maldives,” a statement from the Indian high commission said.
The presidential polls in the Maldives follow two years of tumult in the nation and unprecedented tensions in its ties with India.
New Delhi sees stability in the Maldives as critical to avoiding regional rivals or terror groups from exploiting chaos in the island that is only about 340km from the Indian coast.
To ensure a smooth transition after the elections, senior Indian officials have held a series of meetings with leaders across the political spectrum there. Incumbent President Mohammed Waheed, his predecessor Mohammed Nasheed and long-time ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom have all visited India over the past year for discussions with foreign minister Salman Khurshid, national security adviser Shivshankar Menon and other senior officials.
Indian officials have also made multiple trips to Male to meet all four presidential candidates: Waheed, Nasheed, Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen and Jumhoree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim.
At each of these meetings, officials said, India’s message has been simple and clear. “We’ve told all of them that all we want is to see a stable Maldives where the polls are held fairly and once conducted, are respected by all candidates,” a senior official said.
That message, seemingly obvious carries concerns rooted in the recent history of the Maldives.
Nasheed won the first democratic elections in the Maldives after Gayoom conceded to multi-party polls in 2008 after a 30-year rule. But in February 2012, Nasheed resigned in front of television cameras after protests by Opposition parties and alleged he was deposed in a military-backed coup.
Waheed, who served as Nasheed’s deputy, took over.
Nasheed then sought refuge in the Indian embassy alleging that Waheed’s government was planning to get him arrested, to queer the pitch ahead of the presidential polls. He left the embassy after 11 days, and was allowed by the Maldives poll panel to stand for the elections.
So when the Maldives election commission invited India to send a team of senior observers for the presidential polls, New Delhi picked a team of Lyngdoh, Tandon and Gopalswami, men who stood up to leading political figures during their tenures.