The Maldives has a new President-elect, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who will be sworn in on November 17. In one of the first interviews given by his camp, Solih’s spokesperson Mariya Ahmed Didi spoke to SNI about outgoing President Abdullah Yameen’s decisions, including asking New Delhi to take back two advanced light helicopters, China’s projects that threaten the country with a debt-trap and how the people no longer have to live in fear. The four-term MP and the Maldives’ first woman lawyer told SNI in this exclusive interview that strongman politics doesn’t produce stability.
Q: Congratulations. The combined opposition has won the election. What were your first reactions last Sunday when the results were clear?
A: The atmosphere on election night was electric: there were huge, jubilant crowds in Male and people celebrating up and down the country. It wasn’t just happiness at winning; there was a real feeling of freedom that people no longer have to live in fear.
Q: The victory margin is more than 16 per cent, almost 38,000 votes with a registered turnout of above 89 per cent. Those figures have to make you even more satisfied?
A: It was a huge, resounding victory for Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and the opposition. Maldivians queued up for hours and gave a categorical ‘no’ to oppression, corruption, and authoritarianism.
Q: In Maldivian election terms and considering the context, even though the combined opposition said they would win with over 63 per cent of votes, do you consider this a landslide victory?
A: This was the biggest margin of victory by a long way, in the three presidential elections, since the Maldives became a democracy 10 years ago. I think this can be considered a landslide.
Q: How important was it that four opposition parties came together for this win to be possible?
A: The alliance was extremely important. It allowed us to mount a collective opposition to Yameen and win the election with an overwhelming margin. It sent a clear signal that the people of the Maldives decisively voted for change.
Q: The international community and most analysts felt there would be rigging or some form of manipulation to keep the current President in power. You had your concerns as well. What played a part in keeping these results free and fair?
A: The opposition was very diligent in alerting people of President Yameen’s suspected plans to manipulate the vote. I think this made it more difficult for anyone to try anything untoward on election day.
Q: President Yameen conceded in a speech within about 12 hours and congratulated the President-elect. Are you sure of a smooth transition of power? After a lot of talk of the outgoing ruling party, the PPM, looking for another way to throw a spanner in the works—with reports of contesting of the result and the vote in the election commission and possibly the courts, were you worried?
A: The results of the election are indisputable. For the peace, stability and prosperity of the Maldives, it is extremely important that we enjoy a smooth transfer of power. The election commission has now announced the final results. The entire international community has welcomed the election result and the Maldivian army and police have vowed to uphold it. We are now busy with transition work and we look forward to the swearing-in of President-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Vice President-elect Faisal Naseem in November.
Q: There has been a lot of disquiet in India about the way New Delhi and Indians have been treated by the Yameen Government. The campaign talked about a reset in ties. MDP leaders have gone on record to say the way India was treated was disgraceful. How do you feel India was treated and what will change?
A: As the President-elect said in the election campaign, we are worried about the deterioration in relations between the Maldives and India in recent years. We must repair this relationship. The Maldives has, historically, always maintained a close relationship with India. We see eye to eye on many issues such as the importance of democracy, the rule of law, and the peace and stability of the Indian Ocean.
Q: The first Chinese statement after the result was on the hope that the free trade agreement would be implemented and there would be no disruption to Chinese companies. Will there be a relook at some of the deals?
A: We need to look at all the loans and investments President Yameen signed. There was very little transparency and many of the deals were secret. We don’t know how much the projects cost; we don’t know what the terms are; we don’t know the extent of the potential corruption. So we need to look closely at the details first before we come to any decision.
Q: India had been asked to take back its gifts of two helicopters and the personnel needed to operate them. Will that decision be reversed?
A: That will be a decision of the President-elect once he assumes office. I think any decision will be made in light of the fact that the two MNDF helicopters have saved 164 lives since they started operating. This includes emergency medical evacuations of 160 Maldivians, who may have died if the helicopters had not been there to rush them to hospital.
Q: The opposition now has to perform. How confident are you four disparate groups with only beating President Yameen as the common factor will be able to work together?
A: Keeping the coalition together is very important. The four coalition parties have agreements and a joint manifesto. And we have been working together, and uniting in parliament, for a long time. Among all the coalition leaders, there is a good level of understanding.
Of course, there are areas where we disagree—but the key is we agree to disagree and these disagreements do not disrupt things. Nobody expects the new administration to be smooth sailing all the way. Every government has to navigate choppy waters. But if we can keep the coalition united, we can provide the country with much needed stability.
What is the alternative to this coalition government? Strongman politics, with all its brutality and misrule? The past five years in the Maldives proves that strongman politics does not produce stability. The lesson from the election is that the Maldivian people don’t want it.