Maldives election begins amid opposition cry of unfairness

Elias Hubbard
September 24, 2018

"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.

The Muslim-majority nation has become a theater of rivalry between its traditional partner, India, and China, which has backed Yameen's infrastructure drive and prompted concern in the West about Beijing's increasing influence.

It said it was recognised by the Maldives Election Commission and given accreditation to monitor the voting, but that its staff were denied visas to enter the country.

Yameen, who assumed power in 2013 after a disrupted election, has jail many of his political rivals, detained the Supreme Court judges and declared two states emergency in his 5 years of reign.

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. "Let's do this, Insha Allah!", former foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said on Twitter.

The raid Saturday was the latest sign of a government crackdown against the opposition, raising fears that the election may be rigged to favour Gayoom's party.

Abdul Rasheed Husain, 46, in Male said he cast his ballot for Yameen to take the Maldives "to the next level".

Police raided the opposition presidential candidate's main campaign office on Saturday evening, citing a warrant to search for evidence of vote-buying. There were no arrests.

Solih has the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen although he has struggled for visibility with the electorate because the media is fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

Aviation worker Mohamed Ismail, 23, said he cast his ballot for Solih because "people live in fear" under strongman President Yameen, who has been criticized for cracking down on democratic freedoms.

Some 262,000 people in the archipelago - famed for its white beaches and blue lagoons - were eligible to vote in an election from which independent global monitors have been barred.

The Maldives is better known as a haven for honeymooners, but it is gaining notoriety for what observers say is a concerning slide into dictatorship.

"Look around. People are moving freely", countered Adam Thaufeeg, a 40-year-old government employee, who said he voted for Yameen because of his vision for developing the Maldives. Results are expected by early Monday.

There have been warnings that Yameen could try to hold on to power at all costs.

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.

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.

"The ANFREL denounces recent developments... which ensure that the upcoming presidential election of September 23 can not be considered free and fair", the group said in a statement. The EU in July also threatened travel bans and asset freezes if the situation does not improve. India, long influential in Maldives affairs - it sent troops and warships in 1988 to stop a coup attempt - also expressed hopes the election would represent a return to democratic norms.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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