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Maldives Election Tests a Young Democracy Caught in a Global Power Struggle

September 23,2018 22:10

Even before the elections on Sunday, Mr. Yameen had been accused of rigging them, forcing employees of state-owned companies to vote for his party, stacking the election commission with loyalists, locking up opposition leaders and canceling voter ...

Even if Mr. Yameen were to lose, China’s influence would not simply be rolled back, some observers say. The United States and India are unwilling or unable to match the billions of dollars Beijing has invested in cash-starved regions of South Asia as part of its “One Belt, One Road” initiative. China is spending about $62 billion in Pakistan alone as part of the program, tilting another American ally further into its axis.
“If President Yameen loses, China will be able to work with the next leader, as it has shown in the case of Sri Lanka after the 2015 election,” said Nilanthi Samaranayake, a South Asia analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, a think tank based in Arlington, Va. For small nations in the region, China’s appeal as a source of money for development “transcends domestic politics,” she said.
Sri Lanka’s current leadership won elections in 2015 on a platform that was critical of China, accusing the previous president of taking billions of dollars of loans from Chinese state-owned banks for projects that made little economic sense. But once the new government came to power, it found India and the United States had little to offer in terms of development loans and it eventually warmed to Beijing. Last year, Sri Lanka’s government handed a large seaport to China for 99 years, unable to repay its loans.
Many in the Maldives and elsewhere are also wary of China’s increasing military interests. Despite assurances to the contrary, Beijing has steadily bolstered its presence on a collection of disputed reefs in the South China Sea, eventually building bases there.
The Maldives, which is included in China’s One Belt, One Road plans, has received about $2 billion in Chinese loans that critics say will be difficult to repay. The Chinese initiative has been likened to the United States’ ambitious Marshall Plan in Europe after World War II, but the Marshall Plan was mostly composed of grants rather than onerous loans, critics argue, and went toward economically viable projects.

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