Maldives should be bracing itself for another bout of turmoil. The supreme court’s annulment of the first round of presidential elections and its order for fresh elections has put democracy on hold again. The country had already finished a round of elections in early September, in which the former president, Mohammed Nasheed, had emerged a front- runner with 45 per cent of the votes. His inability to reach the 50 per cent mark had warranted a run-off. But now, with the supreme court throwing out the results on grounds of fraudulent voting, Maldives has to start at the beginning. The court’s insistence on fairness — following a petition by a candidate — is inarguable. But its decision to scrap the polls in its entirety without exploring the option of a re-poll in select seats has raised many eyebrows, particularly in India, which has played an inescapable part in the political crisis in Maldives. A section of the power brokers in Maldives, many of whom are supporters of a former autocratic ruler of the country, have always scoffed at what they assume to be Mr Nasheed’s pronounced pro-India tilt. Mr Nasheed’s decision to take refuge in the Indian high commission early this year, following suspicions that he might be arrested on trumped up charges to stop him from running for the elections, has not helped matters. Despite trying its best to play a neutral role in Maldives’ political crisis, India has been suspected of playing the role of a big brother again and trying to plant a pro-India regime in Maldives. This suspicion had been exploited by Mr Nasheed’s detractors to fuel opposition against his regime. It may still be helping them to keep Mr Nasheed out of power, much to the discomfiture of India, which has been insisting on nothing but fair play ever since the crisis broke in February 2012.
There can be no denying India’s interest in Maldives. The string of atolls plays a crucial part in ensuring India’s maritime security. To work for political stability in this crucial neighbour is not unwarranted, and India has done its bit to promote greater proximity to Maldives. However, the fact that its intentions are being wilfully misconstrued to fuel instability in Maldives is as much an indication of the growing influence of India’s regional rivals in Maldives’ politics as India’s own weakening diplomacy. India should urgently revisit its strategy in the Indian Ocean region.