NEW DELHI: Hours after the Maldives Parliament passed a law to allow foreigners to own land in the country, its High Commissioner to India asserted that Malé wouldn’t do anything which disturbed the “security balance” in the Indian Ocean region (IOR).
In an exclusive interview to Express on Wednesday, Ahmed Mohamed said: “We sit in the middle of the Indian Ocean. We will not consciously do anything to disrupt the security balance of the Indian Ocean region.”
The Maldivian envoy was responding to concerns that the Constitutional amendment bill would allow unprecedented access to foreign countries, mainly China, in a region that India considers vital for its strategic security.
“Why would a sane person harm themselves deliberately?” said Mohamed, when reminded of India’s concerns.
Giving the reason for the Constitutional amendment, he said it was being done only to diversify the economy and attract investment.
“Our only economic pillar is tourism. We need to diversify our economy. We cannot keep the Maldives economy dependent only on one sector,” he said.
Asked about the expedited passage of the bill, he retorted that critics should appreciate that it showed that “political harmony was back” after earlier tensions with the Opposition and the government working together. “Isn’t this something which needs to be celebrated?” he asked.
The Maldivian envoy termed the trilateral forum with India and Sri Lanka as the “fundamental lens” through which his country envisioned security in the region.
In the evening, the Maldives Parliament voted to amend the Constitution that will allow foreign parties willing to invest $1 billion to own land in the country. Another condition for foreign land ownership is that 70 percent of the land has to be “reclaimed”. Earlier, foreigners could only lease land in the Indian Ocean nation up to 99 years.
According to sources, India has expressed its concern to Maldives informally, following which Maldives government has expressed willingness to talk about the issue.
Interestingly, before the vote, former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom tweeted about the land bill, which for the first time indicated a difference of opinion with his half-brother President Abdulla Yameen.
"I have appealed to president to seek public opinion on proposed constitutional amendment re land ownership before ratification," he tweeted in the afternoon.
The bill was passed by 70 votes, including 19 from opposition, in the 85-member parliament. Only 14 MPs opposed.
There is strong speculation that former President Mohamed Nasheed may soon be pardoned by the Maldivian president or spend rest of his term in house arrest, as part of a deal with the opposition. If he is pardoned, then he may qualify to stand for the 2018 presidential polls.
Nasheed had been convicted for 13 years under an anti-terrorism law in March. Last month, he was transferred to house arrest on medical grounds.
Recently, MDP and JP have supported the government's proposal to amend constitution to lower age for president and vice president. Following that, opposition gave its support for the impeachment of Vice President M Jameel Ahmed, who had fled to London. Subsequently, 33-year-old tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb was sworn in as vice president on Wednesday.