All eyes on Maldives strongman after shock election defeat

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NEW DELHI, SEP 24 :
Voters in the Maldives were watching nervously for President Abdulla Yameen’s next move on Monday after the China-friendly strongman suffered a surprise election defeat, prompting celebrations but also concern in the Indian Ocean honeymoon islands.
Yameen was yet to comment and it was far from certain that the 59-year-old, whose main political rivals were either jailed or in exile, would graciously accept defeat in Sunday’s poll, observers said.
Official results showed Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the compromise joint candidate of the weakened opposition, as the clear winner with 58.3 per cent of the vote, the biggest margin of victory in any election since the advent of democracy in 2008.
Nearly 90 per cent of the 262,000 electorate turned out to vote, with some waiting in line for more than five hours as officials encountered technical glitches.
Celebrations broke out across the 1,200-island tropical archipelago popular with wealthy foreign tourists, with opposition supporters carrying yellow flags of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and dancing in the streets.
However, events following the last election in 2013 suggest that the celebrations in the nation of 340,000 people may be premature.
In that election, former president Mohamed Nasheed won the most votes in the first round but the supreme court annuled the result and a subsequent second vote was postponed twice.
This gave Yameen, half-brother of the country’s leader for 30 years until 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, enough time to forge alliances that helped him narrowly win a contested run-off.
The US State Department, which before the election warned it may take “appropriate measures” if the vote was not free and fair, on Monday called on Yameen to “respect the will of the people.”
Regional superpower India, competing with China to retain its influence in the region, was the first to “heartily congratulate” Solih.
“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 foreign ministry said.
“In keeping with our ‘Neighbourhood First’ Policy, India looks forward to working closely with the Maldives in further deepening our partnership.” China, which has loaned Yameen’s government hundreds of millions of dollars for an infrastructure blitz, was yet to comment.
Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen but struggled for visibility as the local media was fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
There were also no other candidates at Sunday’s election held with all key dissidents either in jail or exile.

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