Tue, Sep 25, 2018 - Page 4 News List

Maldivian president concedes defeat

RIGGING FEARS:Winning candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said that the result was a moment of history, but added that the election process was not transparent

AP, MALE

Maldivian opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, third left, and his running mate, Faisal Naseem, fourth left, celebrate victory in the presidential election in Male yesterday.

Photo: AP

Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom yesterday conceded that he lost Sunday’s election to his challenger, Maldivian Legislator Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in a speech broadcast live on television.

Speaking in the Maldives’ native language, Dhivehi, Gayoom congratulated Solih and said: “I know I have to step down now.”

The concession and the results were a surprise to the opposition, who had said Yameen might rig the vote in his favor.

Since getting elected in 2013, Yameen had cracked down on political dissent, jailing rivals — including his half brother and the Maldives’ first democratically elected president — and Maldivian Supreme Court justices.

The election commission released provisional results earlier yesterday showing Solih had won the South Asian nation’s third-ever multiparty presidential election with 58.3 percent of the vote.

The commission said voter turnout in the country of 400,000 people was 89.2 percent.

After Solih claimed victory just after midnight yesterday, his supporters flooded the streets, hugging one another, waving the Maldivian flag, cheering and honking horns in celebration.

Solih, 56, was a democracy advocate during decades of autocratic rule and a former Maldivian Parliament majority leader. He became the Maldivian Democratic Party’s presidential candidate after its other top figures were jailed or exiled by Yameen’s government.

Party leader and former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, in exile in Sri Lanka, had hoped to run again, but was disqualified because of an outstanding prison sentence in the Maldives.

India and China, jostling for influence in the Indian Ocean, had been watching the election closely.

The Indian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement saying it looked forward to working with Solih’s new government “in further deepening our relationship.”

The Maldives’ economy, historically tied to its famed luxury tourism sector, grew under Yameen, in part due to aid and investment from China.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affiars did not immediately respond to a request for comment yesterday, a public holiday.

Solih campaigned door to door, speaking at rallies about human rights and the rule of law, a message that resonated with voters who saw signs the Maldives was slipping back to autocratic rule, just a decade after achieving democracy.

Ahamed Fiasal, a 39-year-old IT business owner who voted for Solih, said the election result was surprising because “no one thought that Yameen would lose like this.”

“He had all the power — the judiciary, the police, the security forces — under him,” Fiasal said. “It seemed he might rig the election even at the last minute and would win somehow or the other.”

In his victory speech, Solih called the election results “a moment of happiness, hope and history,” but said he did not think the election process had been transparent.

A police raid on Solih’s main campaign office the night before the election was seen as a sign that Yameen might attempt to “muzzle his way” to re-election, said Hamid Abdul Gafoor, an opposition spokesman and former Maldivian lawmaker now based in Colombo.

The EU had said that it was not sending election observers, because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring.

The US had threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections were not free and fair.

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