By Prarthana Mitra
After a rigorous polling season in the Maldives, the South Asian island nation elected primary opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih to take over from incumbent president Abdulla Yameen, who career has been anything but exemplary of late.
Solih, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate and face of the weakened opposition, registered majority votes by public mandate and declared his victory even before the government or media called it. Yameen reportedly yielded defeat later on Monday after international pressure mounted on him to concede; the US State Department, for example called on him to “respect the will of the people”.
He lost with 41.7 percent of the votes, according to the election commission, as opposed to Solih who was ahead with 58.33 percent (134,616 votes, reported the foreign ministry).
The descent into one-man rule in Maldives has been aborted
The media had been particularly unhelpful to the MDP’s cause, most of whose workers were imprisoned or in exile owing to Yameen’s crackdown on dissenters. The opposition was a compromise and banked on unity among various regional powers. Critics have accused Yameen’s government of clamping down on press freedom, as prominent media outlets shied from offering sufficient coverage to the opposition’s campaign and agendas. Yet, Solih’s promises and the need for change prevailed, just as MDP chief Mohamed Nasheed convinced people that the vote could bring the country back on the democratic path.
Before polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the MDP under the pretext of tip-offs regarding illegal activities although there were no arrests. The Asian Network for Free Elections were denied entry to monitor the elections, but they observed that it was tipped heavily in favour of Yameen who has instituted vague draconian laws to silence dissent in the past few years, and even declared an emergency in Februrary to arrest Supreme Court judges.
After the poll count, Solih reportedly called Yameen up, asking him to concede defeat in order to facilitate a smooth transfer of power. In a televised address, he called for the immediate release of all political prisoners including former president Gayoom and the Supreme Court justices who were suspected of organising a coup.
International reaction to the election results
India and Sri Lanka were some of the first to extend their congratulations to Solih. India is keen on developing, maintaining and deepening an alliance with the Maldivian government, which has been friendly with China so far. But with Yameen out of the picture and a new power in place, the Indian government will be able to work on its Neighbourhood First policy better.
China has, over the past decade, lent considerable financial and infrastructural support to Yameen’s government, for projects worth millions. There hasn’t yet been an official comment from the Chinese government over this recent shuffle of power.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.
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