The former President of the Maldives is planning a comeback with the India Out campaign.

A man rides a motorbike past a picture of Maldives President Abdulla Yameen on a street ahead of the presidential elections in Male
FILE PHOTO: A man rides a motorcycle past a picture of Abdulla Yameen on a street ahead of the presidential election in Male, Maldives September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Ashwa Faheem/File Photo

March 25, 2022

By Alasdair Pal and Mohamed Junayd

MALE (Reuters) – A former Maldives president jailed on corruption charges has returned to politics with a campaign against Indian influence in the country, worrying New Delhi, which is fighting China for supremacy in its own backyard.

Abdulla Yameen wants to withdraw from the defense agreements signed with India, with which the Maldives have maintained close and friendly relations for decades.

He claims New Delhi has developed a large military presence in the archipelago off the coast of Sri Lanka – claims the ruling party denies.

But the campaign’s growth since a transplant conviction against Yameen was overturned in November has drawn huge crowds at rallies and roused his Progressive Party of Maldives, seen as closer to Beijing.

“It not only endangers our national security, but also hinders our progress and development,” Yameen told Reuters in a rare interview in the capital Male, referring to India’s military presence.

“It is imperative that we get the Indian military out before the end of this year. We certainly don’t like to play second fiddle here in our own country.”

“I don’t want the Indian Ocean, especially in our neighborhood, to be militarized. I like this area as a demilitarized zone. We don’t want to see a foreign power here,” he said, adding that this may encourage other nations like China and the United States to expand their presence in the region.

Defense Minister Mariya Didi told Reuters India’s military presence in the country is limited to operating and maintaining three search-and-rescue and surveillance aircraft deployed by the Maldives Defense Forces and a medical team at a military hospital.

“There is no additional foreign military presence in the Maldives,” she said.

Some of the deals with India that Yameen wants to cancel were signed during his own tenure, she added.

A spokesman for India’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Yameen’s claims. The ministry said last year that India “remains committed to deepening its traditionally friendly ties with the Maldives.”


Located near strategic Indian Ocean shipping routes, the Maldives plays a crucial role in the struggle for influence between India and China, which have repeatedly clashed along their disputed Himalayan border in recent years.

India’s Bollywood film industry and music are popular with locals, and the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has what it calls an “India-first” foreign policy, but China has steadily gained traction since Yameen’s five-year tenure.

Yameen said he is still considering whether to run in next year’s presidential election.

“I came back. I don’t think I’ve ever left, and I don’t think people have left me either.”

The half-brother of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Yameen has long played a key role in the islands’ unruly politics.

He helped oust the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed, in 2012 and took power in an election a year later.

During his tenure, he made the Maldives part of Beijing’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative — a program the United States sees as a way to lure smaller countries into the debt trap.

China funded and built a bridge connecting Male to the international airport and other critical infrastructure.

“Let’s be honest. Europe or the USA do not distribute money packages for development. Only China does that,” Yameen said.

Since his release, Yameen has traveled to islands across the archipelago in support of his campaign.

Local media reported that Indian teachers working on two different islands have been threatened – a claim Yameen describes as “total rubbish”.


After falling from power in 2018, Yameen was sentenced to five years in prison and fined $5 million in 2019 for embezzling $1 million in government funds allegedly acquired by leasing resort development rights .

He was placed under house arrest in 2020 and released months later after irregularities were found in the case, although prosecutors hope to secure a conviction on two pending charges by the summer.

“These are all fabricated allegations,” Yameen said of the ongoing proceedings against him, a diamond-encrusted watch on his right wrist.

(Reporting by Alasdair Pal and Mohamed Junayd; Editing by Shri Navaratnam) The former President of the Maldives is planning a comeback with the India Out campaign.

Bobby Allyn

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