A pro-China candidate has won presidential elections in the Maldives, defeating an incumbent who had strengthened relations with India.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih accepted defeat in the run-off poll, congratulating his rival Mohamed Muizzu who won 54% of the vote.
Mr Muizzu, mayor of the capital Male, campaigned with the slogan “India out”.
Mr Solih will serve as caretaker president until his successor is inaugurated on 17 November.
In power since 2018, the 61 year old from the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) strengthened relations with India, with which Male has strong cultural and financial ties. He called it an “India-first” policy.
The Maldives have long been under India’s sphere of influence. Maintaining its presence there has given Delhi the ability to monitor a key part of the Indian Ocean.
Mr Muizzu, 45, from the Progressive Alliance coalition favours better relations with China.
China, with its rapidly expanding naval forces, wants access to such a strategically important location – something its rival India wants to prevent. Beijing is also keen to protect its energy supplies from the Gulf which pass through the area.
In the last decade, Delhi gave the Maldives two helicopters and a small aircraft. In 2021, the Maldivian defence force said about 75 Indian military personnel were based in the country to operate and maintain the Indian aircraft.
Soon after, the opposition began an “India out” campaign which demanded Indian security personnel leave the Maldives.
Before Mr Solih, Abdulla Yameen from the Progressive Party (PPM) was president from 2013 to 2018. During his term, the Maldives moved closer to China and joined President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative.
Yameen is currently serving a 11-year prison term for corruption, barring him from contesting this year’s vote.
Hundreds of supporters of Mr Muizzu gathered in front of the PPM headquarters to celebrate victory.
Who is Mohamed Muizzu?
Mr Muizzu, born in 1978, holds a PhD in civil engineering from the University of Leeds in the UK. He entered politics in 2012 as minister of housing.
When Yameen came to power, the minister kept his post and signed off on some huge projects, such as a $200m (£164m) bridge that connects Male with the international airport that is situated on a different island.
In 2021, he won mayoral elections in Male, a first for the PPM.