Maldives Vote Seen as Rebuff to Belt and Road
Maldives President Abdulla Yameen suffered a shock election defeat to opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on Sunday — a development widely seen as reflecting voter concerns over the archipelago’s growing indebtedness to Beijing.
Despite widespread concerns from non-governmental organizations that the election would be rigged in the incumbent government’s favor, Solih received 134,616 votes to Yameen’s 96,132, according to preliminary results on Sunday, with a strong voter turnout of 89% buoying the opposition. Yameen conceded defeat and will step down in November.
The opposition accused Yameen of undermining the Indian Ocean nation’s fragile democratic institutions, particularly when he implemented a state of emergency in February during which he suspended Parliament and arrested two Supreme Court justices after they overturned the convictions of nine opposition politicians, including the country’s ousted former leader. Solih has promised to restore confidence in the country’s democracy and introduce greater transparency in government dealings.
But another factor in Yameen’s defeat was public concern over his cozying up to China, said Hannah Cotillon, a political risk analyst with AKE International. Despite Beijing not having an embassy in the country until 2011, Yameen fostered ties with China in order to counterbalance India’s long-standing influence, with Chinese companies being awarded contracts for major investment projects that include an $830 million airport upgrade and a $400 million bridge, according to a report from the Center for Global Development.
Such projects have led to major concerns over repayment, with the opposition claiming that debts to China constitute 70% of the country’s total external debt. The International Monetary Fund also expressed alarm in a report in December, saying, “The rapid debt buildup, a widening current account deficit, and low international reserves leave the Maldives inherently vulnerable under this constellation of risks and reduced policy space.”
“It appears in the eyes of many voters, Chinese projects are too closely associated with Yameen and his dictatorial tendencies, and that has undermined trust,” Cotillon said.
When rumors surfaced in February that India was considering responding to Yameen’s state of emergency with a military intervention, an editorial in the Chinese state-run Global Times warned that “China will take action to stop New Delhi. That suggested to many Maldivians that China was Yameen’s guardian angel,” Cotillon said.
The Maldives is not the only country in which voters have expressed concern over the debts involved in projects falling under China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which aims to develop infrastructure loosely along the lines of country’s ancient trade routes. After a surprise election victory, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced in August that over $23 billion of Chinese projects were “canceled for now.” In Sri Lanka in February, opposition leader Mahinda Rajapaksa scored major victories in local elections against the government over the latter’s decision to give the Hambantota Port to China on a 99-year lease to help repay debts. Similarly, several Chinese-backed projects in Myanmar were put on ice after Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy came into government at the end of March 2016.
“There are many voters and elections to be held along Belt and Road countries,” Cotillon said. “If the initiative is to be a success, China must do more to allay those voters’ fears over Beijing’s intentions and over the potential debt issues over China-backed projects.”
Contact reporter Ke Dawei (email@example.com)
Jul 03 18:31
Jul 03 16:35
Jul 03 12:42
Jul 02 19:38
Jul 02 16:33
Jul 02 14:50
Jul 02 13:28
Jul 02 12:04
Jul 01 19:08
Jul 01 17:47
Jul 01 16:22
Jul 01 15:59
Jul 01 12:58
Jun 30 18:14
Jun 30 17:59
- 1Cover Story: The Mystery of $2 Billion of Loans Backed by Fake Gold
- 2Dialogue with Jared Diamond: Global Pandemic and Crisis Management
- 3EU May Open Borders to Chinese Travelers if Beijing Reciprocates
- 4Trending in China: Chinese Netizens Tell Indian Prime Minister Modi To ‘Shut The Door On The Way Out’ As He Quits Weibo
- 5China Is About to Run Out of Places to Store Crude Oil
- 1Power To The People: Pintec Serves A Booming Consumer Class
- 2Largest hotel group in Europe accepts UnionPay
- 3UnionPay mobile QuickPass debuts in Hong Kong
- 4UnionPay International launches premium catering privilege U Dining Collection
- 5UnionPay International’s U Plan has covered over 1600 stores overseas