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Maldives elects Solih as new President with 89% polling, pro China Yameen conceds defeat

By Smriti | PUBLISHED: 24, Sep 2018, 16:21 pm IST | UPDATED: 24, Sep 2018, 18:56 pm IST

Maldives elects Solih as new President with 89% polling, pro China Yameen conceds defeat Male: Maldives elected their new leader in an election that was watched all over the world. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the presidential election, defeating President Abdulla Yameen who lost by considerable margin although in a surprise defeat. President Abdulla Yameen was known to be close to China.
India on Monday congratulated opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory in the presidential polls in the Maldives and said the election reflected the country’s commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law.

“We welcome the successful completion of the third presidential election process in the Maldives which, according to preliminary information, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has won,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said.

“We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory and hope that the Election Commission will officially confirm the result at the earliest,” it said.

“This election marks not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives, but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law,” the MEA said.

India’s ties with the Maldives came under strain after President Yameen declared Emergency in the country on February 5, following an order by the country’s Supreme Court to release a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials.

India had criticised the Yameen government for the imposition of the Emergency and urged it to restore the credibility of the electoral and political process by releasing political prisoners.

The Emergency was lifted 45 days later.

In July, India expressed concern over announcement of the presidential election without allowing democratic institutions, including Parliament and the judiciary, to work in a free and transparent manner.

He took 134,616 votes to beat Yameen, who received 96,132, provisional results showed.

Yameen, who has been accused of crushing dissent in the archipelago, admitted defeat, saying he accepted the result.

The Maldives is a key battleground in the rivalry between China and India.

The US and India have welcomed Solih's win. Yameen had drawn the Maldives closer to China, which has stepped up its presence in the Indian Ocean in recent years.

Many opposition politicians in the Maldives have been jailed under Mr Yameen, and the US and European Union had threatened sanctions before the vote if the democratic situation did not improve.

Supporters of Solih took to the streets in celebration overnight.

"The message is loud and clear. The people of Maldives want change, peace and justice," Solih, widely known as Ibu, told reporters in the capital, Male.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Yameen said he had congratulated Solih, while defending his record.

President Yameen had been widely expected to win another term in office and some observers had believed the election was rigged in his favour. Voter turnout was 89%,

"No major issues were reported in the vote counting process as well as with the voters list, which will affect the results," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Who is Ibrahim Mohamed Solih?

Solih is the joint presidential candidate of an opposition alliance

One of the most senior politicians in the Maldives, and has for years been calling for democratic reform.

Joint presidential candidate for an opposition alliance - which includes the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party. Solih has been parliamentary leader of the MDP since 2011.

Outside the main opposition campaign centre in Male, hundreds of people gathered overnight to celebrate, chanting "Ibu, Ibu, Ibu".

They turned out in the hundreds to support the opposition leader

Exiled ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted by Yameen in 2012, said on Twitter that Solih had done "an extremely good service" to the people of Maldives.

What's the situation in the Maldives?

The Maldives is made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 islands. More than 400,000 people live there but its future hangs in the balance due to climate change. Tourism is a vital part of its economy.

 President Abdulla Yameen has been accused of trying to rig the election

The archipelago has been gripped by political upheaval in recent years. In February the Supreme Court quashed the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them Mr Nasheed.

But after President Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of two judges, the court reversed its decision.

The move was seen as a sign that Yameen would not tolerate any challenge to his rule and sparked criticism from Washington, London and New Delhi.

Some in India, meanwhile, called for an intervention in a small, neighbouring country once seen as firmly within its sphere of influence. Nasheed also appealed for Indian military intervention.

In a statement after Solih's victory, India's Ministry of External Affairs said Sunday's election marked "not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law".

What role has China played in the Maldives?

As part of Beijing's push to gain strategic influence and carve out new trading routes in the Indian Ocean and beyond, it has lent billions for huge infrastructure projects in Pakistan and Sri Lanka, and operates key ports in those countries, to the chagrin of India.

Under Yameen, the Maldives has also welcomed Chinese money for major projects and signed a free trade agreement. More tourists from China now visit the Maldives than from any other country.

Before the vote, analysts said that Beijing feared any change in government that could affect its interests. India, meanwhile, was seen as preferring the opposition, because of its concerns about Mr Yameen's cosy ties with its regional rival.

The Sinamale bridge, funded with Chinese grants and loans, connects the capital Male and the airport island Hulhule

Was it a fair election?

Some international monitors, including from the EU and UN, did not send teams to monitor the election, fearing their presence would appear to condone Mr Yameen's re-election. Others said they could not get visas in time.

On Saturday, police officers searched the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party office in Male without a warrant, the party said. A police spokesperson confirmed the raid, without providing further details.

Before announcing provisional results, the election commission's chief, Ahmed Shareef, said there were no irregularities that could affect the outcome of the vote, the Maldives Independent newspaper reports.

Yameen has shrugged off accusations of authoritarianism, saying during the campaign: "No-one will come to greet me and shake my hand, if there is tyranny."

His half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, ran the country autocratically for three decades until the archipelago's first-ever democratic vote in 2008, which was won by Nasheed. Gayoom was jailed in June.

Credit: BBC, PTI
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