Ex-Maldives president Solih tells Muizzu to “seek dialogue”, as debt burden looms

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu, who has been making headlines for his “India Out” stance and hostility, has now changed his tune to deal with the huge debt that Maldives owes to India. In a recent interview, he has called India the “closest ally” of Maldives.

Mohamed Muizzu
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu has not yet visited India, and instead went to China for his first state visit. Screenshot courtesy: X/@governmentmv

In addition, his predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has said that Muizzu must stop being “stubborn” and seek dialogue with neighbours to overcome the financial challenges. Solih made these remarks just days after Muizzu, widely seen as a pro-China leader, urged India to provide debt relief to the archipelago nation.

Muizzu, 45, defeated Solih, 62, in the presidential election held in September 2023.

Speaking at an event in Male to rally support for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary candidates, contesting four constituencies in Maafannu, Solih said that he had seen media reports that suggest Muizzu wanted to talk to India for debt restructuring.

But the financial challenges for the Maldivian state were not caused by Indian loans, Solih was quoted as saying by the news portal Adhadhu.com.

Maldives had a debt of MVR 18 billion (USD 1.16 billion) owed to China, compared to MVR 8 billion (USD 516.16 million) owed to India, Solih said, adding that the repayment period was 25 years.

“However, I am confident that our neighbours will help. We must stop being stubborn and seek dialogue. There are many parties that can help us. But [Muizzu] doesn’t want to compromise. I feel [the government is] starting to understand the situation only now,” said Solih.

The former president said that the Muizzu government was deceiving the public and relaunching projects initiated by the MDP government. He said that ministers were now lying to cover up that deception.

Muizzu criticised India during and after the presidential election campaign and relations between the two countries have deteriorated since he assumed office in November.

He has demanded the complete withdrawal of 88 Indian military personnel manning three aviation platforms used for humanitarian and medical evacuations in the Maldives by May 10 this year. The first batch of 26 Indian military personnel has already left the island nation and was replaced by civilians.

In recent days, with the debt burden looming, Muizzu has backtracked on his stance against India. The Maldives news portal Edition.mv said in a report on Thursday that Muizzu said, “India will continue to remain the Maldives’ closest ally, there is no question about it.” The media interview, the first given by Muizzu since assuming office, was given to Mihaaru, a sister publication of Edition.mv.

Muizzu’s conciliatory comments towards India come ahead of Parliament elections in Maldives slated to be held on April 21.

He is yet to visit India, although it has been four months since the new government took over. The first overseas trip by Maldivian presidents had always been to India, the report noted. However, Muizzu visited China in January, making that his first state visit.