Voters in the Maldives have thrown out the incumbent president, Abdulla Yameen, in an extraordinary rebuke to a leader who jailed political opponents and judges and drew his country closer to China during a tumultuous five-year term.
With more than 80% of the ballots counted on Sunday night, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, popularly known as Ibu, was ahead by an unassailable 17 points in an election viewed as a referendum on democracy in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Yameen, 59, is yet to concede but Solih has claimed victory in the capital, Male. “This is a moment of happiness, a moment of hope, a moment of history,” Solih told an audience of journalists and members of his campaign team. “For many of us this has been a difficult journey, a journey that has led to prison cells or exile.
“It’s been a journey that has ended at the ballot box. I must thank all those people who have struggled for this cause.”
Transparency Maldives, a local monitoring group, said its early results had shown Solih was the victor “by a decisive margin”. “We call on all stakeholders to maintain an environment conducive for a peaceful transfer of power,” the group said.
A spokesman for Yameen declined to say if the strongman leader would be making any public statements in the next hours.
Analysts had said Yameen was in a tough contest to win a second term against an opposition of disparate parties united by the goal of removing him from office. But few were willing to predict his downfall given his control of the country’s election commission, its supreme court and the public broadcaster.
Since his election in 2013, the former civil servant has introduced criminal defamation laws, imprisoned or exiled his key political opponents and, in February, gutted the supreme court by arresting two of its five judges.
The US and EU had both threatened sanctions against Yameen and members of his government if they were seen to be interfering in Sunday’s poll.
Monitors said a record number of people voted on Sunday, with lines snaking around the blocks of many polling booths and the voting deadline extended by three hours to accommodate the demand.
The result puts Solih, 54, on track to be sworn in as the Maldives’ fourth president since it transitioned to democracy in 2008 after decades of monarchical and authoritarian rule.
A mild-mannered stalwart of the Maldivian democratic movement, Solih was among the MPs who tried – and were denied the right – to register the country’s first independent political party in 2003.
He is known for his cool temperament and is considered palatable to parties across the country’s polarised political spectrum.
“It is crucial to note that as a lawmaker Ibu has enjoyed cross-party appeal more than any other,” said Azim Zahir, a Maldivian researcher based in western Australia.
Should Solih become president, he will face challenges in keeping his disparate coalition together and in striking a balance between India, the country’s traditional patron and protector, and China, which has the wealth and willingness to fund the small country’s development.
By: The Guardian
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