MALE, MALDIVES — The president-elect of the Maldives, Mohamed Muizzu, secured the release of his jailed mentor on Sunday, a day after divisive polls that saw the pro-Beijing leader vow to rebalance relations with New Delhi.
Bowing to Muizzu’s request, outgoing president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ordered the transfer of his predecessor Abdulla Yameen from a high-security prison island to house arrest in the capital Male.
Hundreds of supporters cheered and waved pink flags of their Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) as Yameen arrived at his home, party officials said.
Muizzu was a proxy candidate of Yameen, who is still serving an 11-year sentence for corruption carried out when he was in power between 2013 and 2018.
Officials said Solih did not have powers to pardon Yameen, but the only concession he could make was to transfer the convict to house arrest.
Solih, 61, will serve as caretaker president until his successor is inaugurated on 17 November.
‘All Maldivian citizens’
Shortly after he was declared the winner, Muizzu, the 45-year-old current mayor of Male, urged unity in the politically divided, Sunni Muslim-majority nation.
“No matter their political affiliation, they are all Maldivian citizens in front of me,” Muizzu told supporters after his win late Saturday.
“They are entitled to the same rights. They are entitled to equality in everything.”
Before his jailing, Yameen had led an “India-out” campaign to remove New Delhi’s deployment of a small detachment of security personnel to operate four reconnaissance aircraft gifted to the archipelago.
During his five years in power, Yameen had also shifted into China’s orbit, moving away from India which had been a traditional benefactor of the small but strategically important Indian Ocean neighbour.
There was no immediate formal reaction from China, but the Chinese ambassador in Male, Wang Lixin, reposted a local meme of Muizzu’s victory on X, the former Twitter.
The ambassador added “warm congratulation” and three clapping emojies to her repost of the local sun.mv media network’s post applauding Muizzu.
Washington congratulated the president-elect and said the two countries have a “strong relationship based on mutual respect and shared interests.”
“The United States looks forward to deepening our partnership with Maldives and expanding our people-to-people ties,” the State Department said in a statement.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Muizzu on Sunday.
New Delhi is “committed to strengthening the time-tested India-Maldives bilateral relationship”, Modi posted on social media platform X.
The president of neighbouring Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, telephoned Muizzu to express “his heartfelt desire” to elevate ties to a “robust and multi-faceted partnership”, his office said.
The Maldives, a chain of atolls scattered 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator and known for its upmarket beach resorts, straddles one of the world’s busiest east-west shipping lanes.
Muizzu won 54 percent of the vote in the run-off contest, prompting incumbent Solih to concede defeat shortly before midnight Saturday.
Muizzu told a meeting with Chinese Communist Party officials last year that his party’s return to office would “script a further chapter of strong ties between our two countries”.
The result upends Solih’s efforts to revert the country’s diplomatic posture back towards India since taking office five years ago.
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