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India by his side, Maldives minister Abdulla Shahid is UNGA president

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid was elected president of the 76th UNGA with an overwhelming majority — he received 143 votes out of 191 ballots cast, while Afghanistan’s former Foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul got 48 votes.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: June 8, 2021 3:47:51 am
Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid. (Photo: Twitter @@abdulla_shahid)

India on Monday voted for Maldives, which defeated Afghanistan for the post of president of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).

Maldives Foreign Minister Abdullah Shahid was elected president of the 76th UNGA with an overwhelming majority — he received 143 votes out of 191 ballots cast, while Afghanistan’s former Foreign minister Zalmai Rassoul got 48 votes.

This is a post held on an annual basis, rotated among various regional groupings. The 76th session (2021-22) is the turn of the Asia-Pacific group. This is the first time Maldives will occupy the office of PGA.

Maldives had announced Shahid’s candidature in December 2018, at a time no other candidate was in the fray. “FM Shahid is eminently qualified to hold the office of PGA, with vast diplomatic experience and strong credentials, especially in the multilateral fora,” an Indian diplomat at the UN said.

India announced its support for Shahid during Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit to Maldives in November 2020. He was the only candidate even then.

In a surprising development, Rassoul entered the fray in mid-January 2021, with less than six months left for the elections.

While Rassoul also had strong credentials, by the time his candidature was announced, Maldives had already garnered extensive support. Moreover, it has never held the office of PGA, while Afghanistan held the post during the 21st GA session in 1966-67.

“Both Maldives and Afghanistan have excellent relations with India, and both candidates are friends of India. However, since India had already committed its support to Maldives at a time when no other candidate was in the fray, India voted in favour of Maldives,” a source said.

The PGA’s office is the highest office in the UN System, and reflects the collective goodwill of 193 UN member-states. “India remains committed to supporting the office of PGA, as it has consistently done in previous years,” the source said.

It is learnt that Maldives has asked for an Indian diplomat at the UN — India’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the UN K Nagaraj Naidu in New York — to join his office as chief of staff.

Congratulating Shahid, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar tweeted, “Heartiest felicitations to Foreign Minister of Maldives @abdulla_shahid on his election as President for 76th UN General Assembly. This is a testimony as much to his own stature as to the standing of Maldives. We look forward to working with him to strengthen multilateralism and its much needed reforms.”

India will be relieved to see Maldives take the position, after Turkish diplomat and politician Volkan Bozkir leaves office as UNGA president. Last week, Bozkir, during a visit to Islamabad, had said that Pakistan is “duty-bound” to raise the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the UN more strongly. India had responded sharply by calling it “unacceptable” and said that his “behaviour is truly regrettable and surely diminishes his standing on the global platform”.

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