Solih sworn in as Maldives president, replacing pro-China leader

Lamar Ellis
November 18, 2018

Solih, a veteran lawmaker, won the presidential election in September as a joint opposition candidate against president Abdullah Yameen, a strongman who steered the country closer to China and faced worldwide pressure over imprisoning political rivals.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga was among more than 300 foreign dignitaries from 46 countries who attended the inauguration of president-elect Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

"I am confident that my visit will herald a new era of even closer exchanges and cooperation between our two countries", Modi said on Facebook, especially in "infrastructure, health care, connectivity and human resource development".

Solih's inaugural speech mentioned only India by name, while Modi was the only head of government present at the ceremony. Mr Yameen was openly pro-China and had become a thorn in New Delhi's flesh, with Indo-Maldivian ties having nose-dived during Mr. Yameen's tenure.

Modi assured Solih of India's firm commitment in assisting the Maldives to achieve sustainable social and economic development, and conveyed New Delhi's "readiness to extend help in every possible way". During the function, Modi was sitting beside former Maldivian presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Later, PM Modi also extended an invitation to President Solih to make a state visit to India at his earliest convenience.

Solih greeted Modi with a warm embrace at the presidential office ahead of their meeting after the swearing-in ceremony.

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The visiting dignitaries will pay courtesy calls on the president and attend an official reception at the Kurumba Maldives resort island near Malé.

On arrival in the Maldivian capital, Prime Minister Modi was given a red carpet welcome and was received by Maldives Parliament's new Speaker Qasim Ibrahim.

The Maldives is the only South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation SAARC country that Modi has not visited.

According to the joint statement, Modi thanked Solih for the special gesture of inviting him to the inauguration ceremony. The last visit by an Indian prime minister to the Indian Ocean island nation was by Manmohan Singh in 2011.

Solih emerged as common opposition candidate as all key dissidents were either jailed or forced into exile by Yameen who took power following a controversial run-off in 2013. Modi also pushed for "expanding opportunities for Indian companies to invest in the Maldives in different sectors for the mutual benefit of both countries" as well as easing visas.

The Maldives foreign ministry said China's culture minister Luo Shugang was also an invitee.

Relations between India and the Maldives deteriorated further after Yameen imposed emergency on February 5 this year. The emergency lasted for 45 days. However, Mohamed Nasheed has promised his party would reduce reliance on China and renegotiate millions of dollars in loans taken from Beijing.

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