President Dr Mohamed Muizzu delivered his maiden address to the People’s Majilis, opening the first sitting of 2024 of the 19th Parliament on Monday.

Citing the first such address to a parliament by Sultan Mohamed Shamsuddeen III in 1932, President Muizzu made his top priority staunchly clear: to protect the religion of Islam and the sovereignty and independence of the Maldivian nation.

Drawing comparisons to the great military reigns of Sultan Muhammad Thakurufaanu, Sultan Hasan ‘Izz ud-din, Sultan Mohmaed Imaaduddin I, and Sultan Ibrahim Iskandar I, President Muizzu declared that his presidency would be one that progressively increased the military capacity of the Maldives and augmented its capabilities for a comprehensive national defence strategy encompassing terrestrial, aerial, and maritime domains.

Highlighting the efforts by Sultan Imaaduddin I to fortify the Maldives with 14 gunmetal canons imported from Indonesia to evade attacks by the Malabars and the Arakkal kingdom, he said, “I believe the Maldives needs to bolster modern military capacity to defend its territories on land, sea, and air”. 

The reference to historic efforts in evading attacks by two Indian powerhouses, draws parallels to recent events where Indian naval vessels illegally boarded several Maldivian fishing vessels in the Maldives’ northern Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) on two separate occasions. 

He said, work in this line has already begun, and that the nation’s defence force is on the verge of achieving round-the-clock surveillance capabilities over the nation’s 900,000-square-kilometre EEZ.

Stating that a large majority of Maldivian citizens support his administration because of the pledge to remove foreign military troops from the country, the president reiterated that diplomatic negotiations were underway for the withdrawal of Indian troops.

He detailed that, as agreed by India in the latest negotiations, the military personnel on one of the three aviation platforms would be withdrawn before 10 March 2024, and the military personnel on the remaining two platforms would be pulled out before 10 May 2024.

While the president evaded noting the details of these agreements, instead of removing the Indian troops, both countries agreed to replace the Indian military personnel with civil staff in the operation of military aircraft gifted to the Maldives by India.

The decision to replace military with civilian operators marks a nuanced approach to addressing the sensitivities surrounding foreign military presence in the Maldives, given the heightened sensitivity of the Maldives’ relations with its traditionally allied neighbour.

The President also added that the Maldivian government has officially communicated with India that it will not renew the agreement enabling foreign nations to measure and map the Maldivian oceans and coastlines.

This statement comes amid concerns raised by the opposition regarding two Chinese research vessels currently operating around the Maldivian waters, with India itself expressing apprehensions over the presence of two Chinese vessels in the region.

Concerns have been mounting in India over the potential military implications of the data collected by these Chinese research vessels. The Maldives foreign ministry announced it had granted permission for the Xiang Yang Hong 03 to dock for personnel rotation and replenishment, clarifying that the ship would not conduct any research in Maldivian waters. 

This incident follows a recent decision by Sri Lanka, the Maldives’ closest neighbour, to impose a one-year moratorium on foreign research ships entering its waters—a move seen as a response to Indian concerns over Chinese maritime activities.

Indian analysts highlight India’s apprehensions about the Chinese research ships, fearing the data collected could be used to enhance China’s undersea military operations, particularly in anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

While the foreign policy of the government has been under immense scrutiny, exacerbated by the rivalry of major regional powers—India and China—vying for dominance over the Indian Ocean, the President emphasised that while safeguarding the nation’s sovereignty, the primary commitment in governance will be to place the welfare of the people and the nation at the forefront, guided by the “Pro-Maldives” principle.