Maldives elections: Pro China Yameen ousted

Maldivian election officers gather at the election commissioner's office center in Male Maldives Saturday Sept. 22 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday

The Maldives was adjusting to a new political reality Monday after the surprise election of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih over incumbent Abdulla Yameen, who had developed close ties with China during his five years in power.

In his victory speech, Solih called the election results "a moment of happiness, hope and history", but said that he did not think the election process had been transparent. "This is a journey that has ended at the ballot box because the people willed it", Solih, popularly known as Ibu, told reporters in Male. The Maldives Foreign Ministry also acknowledged Solih's victory amid global pressure urging Yameen to concede.

A spokesman for Maldives' Election Commission said official results would not be announced until Saturday, allowing a week for parties to challenge the results in court.

There had been concerns that Yameen, who has borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars from China for an infrastructure blitz, might not accept the outcome.

Yameen voted minutes after polling booths opened in the capital Male, where opposition campaign efforts had been frustrated by a media crackdown and police harassment.

When the Election Commission announced in June that the Presidential Election would be held on September 23, the opposition parties - Jumhooree Party, Adalath Party and a faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives led by Mr. Gayoom - made a decision to join hands to dethrone Mr. Yameen.

Voters debated the relative merits of the two candidates in front of a polling station at the Imauddin School.

Gayoom has been criticized for cracking down on freedoms.

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While presidential terms usually end on November 11, President Yameen's term will end on November 17, the same day Solih and his running mate Faisal Naseem will take their oath of office. The reason why many raised doubts whether if the elections would be free and fair.

"There is a huge popular groundswell in favor of change", said Mr. Solih's campaign manager, Mariya Ahmed Did.

Most poll monitors, including those from the European Union and United Nations, declined the government's invitation to observe the election, fearing their presence might be used to endorse Yameen's re-election even after possible vote rigging.

"India sees it all in a very securitised sense that here are all these Chinese-backed ports around it", said Gareth Price, a South Asia expert at the think-tank Chatham House, referring to Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Others said they could not get visas in time.

"We welcome the successful completion of the third Presidential election process in the Maldives which, according to preliminary information, Mr Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has won", said the statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) early Monday morning. "We call on all stakeholders to maintain an environment conducive for a peaceful transfer of power".

In February he declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.

The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign had been heavily tilted in favour of 59-year-old Yameen.

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