Maldives’ Nasheed pledges to renegotiate Chinese loans if opposition wins September election

COLOMBO (Reuters) – China has dragged the Maldives into a debt trap and any future opposition-led government will not be able to repay the loans unless a review reduces them to their true value, Reuters said on Monday. Reuters exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed speaks during an interview with Reuters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, June 4, 2018.REUTERS/ Dinuka Liyanawatte

The Maldives, home to 400,000 people and best known as a tropical paradise for tourists, has suffered political turmoil since Nasheed, its first democratically elected leader, was forced to resign amid a police mutiny in 2012.

Nasheed, who now lives in Sri Lanka, said President Abdulla Yameen’s government had given China a contract to build a 1.4 km (0.9 mile) bridge in Male, the capital, at a cost of $300 million, about four times the government’s estimate. .

“This is just one example,” Nasheed, leader of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), told Reuters. “So we have to deal with it.”

Total infrastructure construction loans, provided by China’s Exim Bank, are expected to “easily amount to more than $2.5 billion”, Nasheed said, roughly equivalent to the country’s gross domestic product. (GDP) of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

“They did it by creating a debt trap and then using debt as an agent of discipline,” he said in an interview in a suburb of the Sri Lankan capital, from where he is fighting. to defeat Yameen in the latter’s bid for re-election. in September.

Repayment of public debt to China in 2020 will amount to $750 million, about half of that year’s total revenue, he said.

“There’s no way we can do this in 2020 and nobody’s going to give us the money,” Nasheed added.

“None of the Chinese projects have been tendered. We don’t know the amount, we don’t know the terms, we don’t know who is taking it, and we don’t know the obligation of the government on this.

He said: “We would have to renegotiate. He’s a big cheat. We cannot agree to pay this amount. But we will pay the actual amount.

The government did not immediately respond to phone calls and text messages from Reuters seeking comment.

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism in 2015 and sentenced to 13 years in prison after a controversial and widely criticized trial. But he was allowed to go on sick leave to Britain, where he was granted political asylum.

Since last year, he has been working to unite opposition parties to defeat Yameen.

The opposition has accused the government of locking up most of its leaders who might challenge Yameen’s bid for a second five-year term, thereby disqualifying them from contesting, but the government denies this.

Nasheed campaigned from Sri Lanka to win the primary elections last week, but the Electoral Commission refused to accept the result and vowed to take action against the MDP.

The opposition is likely to agree on a common candidate if Nasheed is not allowed to compete, but the candidate will only be revealed after authorities call for nominations, as a Yameen challenger could also end up in jail, Nasheed added.

The Maldives has been in upheaval since February, when Yameen imposed a state of emergency to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that overturned the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed.

During the 45-day emergency, the Yameen administration arrested former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Chief Justice, another Supreme Court Justice and a Supreme Court Administrator for attempting to overthrow the government.

Reporting by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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