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Maldives strongman Abdulla Yameen faces defeat

A file picture of Abdulla Yameen.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Maldives Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih was set for a victory in Sunday’s high-stakes presidential polls, unseating strongman President Abdulla Yameen in a major upset.

With a near-60% lead around midnight, after almost 70% of the votes were counted, senior lawmaker Mr. Solih, backed by a coalition of Opposition parties, emerged winner.

“This is a clear victory…and a vote for the country to return to the path of democracy,” former President Mohammed Nasheed told The Hindu. “Destiny has a habit of always choosing the right and the good. When history is on the march, you can’t stop it. President Yameen has to go,” said the exiled leader, now living in Colombo.

Mr. Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) led the ‘Joint Opposition’, which fielded Mr. Solih to run against incumbent Mr. Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

High hopes: Maldivian youngsters posing after casting their vote in Male on Sunday.

High hopes: Maldivian youngsters posing after casting their vote in Male on Sunday.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

A 12-hour polling day

After a nearly 12-hour polling day, Maldivian voters — who braved long queues for hours to cast their ballot — are now bracing for what, amid heightened fears of rigging, seemed an unlikely outcome until Saturday. From the time Mr. Yameen declared an Emergency in February, after a top court’s order freed dissident leaders including Mr. Nasheed, the Indian Ocean Archipelago witnessed what Mr. Yameen’s critics termed a “democratic backsliding”.

On Sunday, as many as 2,62,135 voters had a chance to choose between incumbent President Abdulla Yameen and Mr. Solih in a poll that came with the promise of change.

 

Maldivian authorities allowed only select international observers and media to visit Male on poll day, denying visas to others that the Elections Commission had earlier accredited. However, terming the poll “the most perfect election” in the Maldives, Ahmed Akram, Commissioner and spokesperson at the Maldives Elections Commission said that the voter turnout was likely to be 85% or more, hours before the total votes polled was declared.

Asked about the delay at polling centres he said: “We had planned to use tablets in all centres to verify voters’ names in the database and authenticate their IDs. But since many centres did not have adequate internet range, we had to do the verification manually and hence, the extra time,” he told The Hindu over telephone from Male. Ballots were being counted manually, he said.

A police raid of the Opposition’s main campaign office on the eve of elections heightened concern over a possible fraudulent vote. While the polling process was peaceful, The Hindu learnt from international election observers on the ground that they were taken only to select booths chosen by the Commission. “We were not allowed to speak to anyone even in these booths,” an observer told The Hindu on Sunday evening.

The vote began at Male time 8 a.m. and was to end by 4 p.m., but continued for three more hours, almost until 7.30 p.m. “Voting time extended by 3 hours at all polling stations, to allow maximum number of eligible voters to vote,” the Maldivian Foreign Ministry tweeted, even as many Maldivians complained on Twitter about the inordinate delay at polling stations.

Stakes high

Sunday’s election, the third-ever multi-party presidential election since the Maldives’s transition to a democracy in 2008, generated particular interest among young voters, according to political activists across party lines. The stakes of the election also rose in the last six months, after Mr. Yameen declared a 45-day State of Emergency that set off political unrest in the island, drawing international criticism.

 

The election came under close international scrutiny, which the government resisted, but for many voters, it also brought with it a promise of brighter days.

Long queues were seen outside and within the premises of the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo, where over 2,000 local Maldivians had registered to vote.

Medical student Raufa Majid was voting for the first time. “I am very happy that I have had a say. I dream of a day when the Maldives will have greater freedom of thought and expression. There should be no inequality, and everyone should have equal opportunity. Your surname should not matter,” she said, pointing to prevalent nepotism.

“Being rebellious is okay, but we can’t afford to disregard fact or basic decency while disagreeing with someone. Also, we must remember that love and loyalty to one’s country need not mean love or loyalty to a leader,” the 21-year-old said.


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Printable version | Oct 12, 2021 5:40:51 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/maldives-poll-sees-high-turnout/article25021953.ece

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