It is a 10-year-old promise, but it seems as though India may not keep it.
When the United Nations General Assembly votes Friday for five non-permanent seats in the Security Council, countries have to choose between candidates. One of these seats is in the Asia-Pacific group, with two candidates — Maldives and Indonesia.
From at least 2008, India has promised Maldives its support in this election. A joint statement in December 2008, when President Mohamed Nasheed visited New Delhi, said: “…India expressed appreciation to the Maldives side for its support to India’s candidature for a permanent seat in the expanded Security Council and for its candidature to the non-permanent member seat of the UN Security Council for the year 2011-2012. Maldives also thanked India for its support for its candidature to the non-permanent seat of UN Security Council for the year 2019-20.” Also Read: Use of hidden veto in UNSC subsidiary organs impacting its work and effectiveness: India
Earlier that year, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had “confirmed India’s support to Maldives’ candidature for a non-permanent seat in the UN Security Council for the term 2019-2020” in his reply to a letter from then Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom seeking such support, according to a Maldivian government press release.
Nasheed’s abrupt removal in 2013 seemed not to have dented this promise. In a joint statement during President Abdulla Yameen’s 2014 visit, “India reiterated its support for Maldives’ candidature for non-permanent seat of the UN Security Council for… 2019-2020. Maldives also assured India of its support for India’s candidature for the non-permanent seat… for 2021-2022.”
But four years is a long time in international relations. Maldives and India have drifted apart on several issues, mainly on Yameen’s proximity to China. India’s hopes for “regime change” in the country are up in the air. Presidential elections are due in September. In May, the Election Commission declared candidates convicted of criminal charges ineligible, effectively knocking out Nasheed and three other main opposition leaders. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has endorsed Nasheed’s candidature but, as of now, he remains ineligible to contest. In February, the Supreme Court had reversed Nasheed’s conviction, but Yameen clamped an Emergency, jailed the Chief Justice and another judge, as well as former President Gayoom. The other judges overturned the Supreme Court’s February order.
In a message on the Maldives UNSC website in 2016, Yameen appealed for support from the world for his country’s first-ever bid to enter the UNSC: “The Maldives will take to the Security Council its experience as a norm entrepreneur that helps to shape solutions through consensus… As a small state, we will always listen, and we are aware of when to propose, and where to compromise.”
Not that Yameen has shown his compromising side in the last four months. In April, Maldives rejected a call by the UN Human Rights Council to allow convicted opposition leaders to contest the election.
Despite the recoil by many countries over developments in Maldives since February, Yameen’s government has continued to campaign for the seat. Last month, it established diplomatic ties with Zambia, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea and Congo. Yameen has claimed more powerful “friends”, naming Saudi Arabia, Russia and China for preventing the tabling of the Maldives situation on the formal agenda of the Security Council in February, when it was nearly taken up.
Both Maldives and Indonesia are Islamic nations. Indonesia has been a non-permanent member thrice before, Maldives never. That could have gone in favour of Maldives six months ago, but it is unclear how much this will count now.
As for India’s vote, officials believe that after taking a firm line against Yameen when he declared the Emergency, voting for Maldives would send out wrong signals.
Indonesia, by contrast, is the flavour of the season, especially after last month’s visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which India gained a firmer footing in a region China dominates. It was Modi’s first visit to the biggest ASEAN country, in terms of both population and economy, and came four months after the ASEAN special summit in Delhi.
Modi’s meetings with President Joko Widodo covered the expanse from defence cooperation to shared cultural links, and led to the signing of several agreements, including the joint development of Sabang Port, 90 km from the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, at the entrance to the Strait of Malacca. The two countries upgraded their strategic partnership to Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and adopted a document called the “Shared Vision on Maritime Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific between India and Indonesia”.
The recasting of the old, more China-centric term Asia-Pacific into the Indo-Pacific (with the blessings of the United States) is by itself an indication of how India may now see the upcoming contest between Maldives and Indonesia for a seat at the old horseshoe.