Opposition candidate takes lead in Maldives presidential election
* Opposition builds 16.6 percentage point lead -local media
* Exit poll shows 63 pct of votes for opposition -officials
* Voters queue from Saturday night; police raid opposition
* Observers denounce repressive campaign, lack of
* International monitors stay away, fearing vote-rigging
(Updates latest results, adds election monitor and PPM quotes)
By Mohamed Junayd
MALE, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Opposition candidate Ibrahim
Mohamed Solih has taken a 16 percentage point lead over
incumbent Abdulla Yameen in the Maldives' presidential election,
according to early provisional counts reported by local media.
Yameen was expected to cement his grip on power amid
criticism over the fairness of the vote on the islands best
known as a luxury holiday destination.
Voting closed at 1900 hours (1400 GMT), after the Indian
Ocean nation's Election Commission extended voting by three
hours because of long queues at polling stations.
The provisional results counted in 433 of 472 ballot boxes
as of 1843 GMT showed the opposition leading by a margin of 16.6
percent, news website Mihaaru reported. The provisional results
for the remaining 9 percent of the vote have yet to be
The opposition said that its own exit polls showed its
candidate had secured 63 percent of vote, adding that the count
was being monitored closely.
Officials from Yameen's PPM party told Reuters that results
from areas where he has strong support have yet to be released.
"If we win or lose, PPM has the courage to accept the
decision of Maldivian people," the ruling party's parliamentary
leader MP Ahmed Nihan wrote on Twitter.
The Muslim-majority Indian Ocean nation has become a theatre
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.
Yameen's government has jailed many of his main rivals,
including former president and his half-brother Maumoon Abdul
Gayoom on charges ranging from terrorism to corruption.
POLLING STATION QUEUES
More than a quarter of a million people were eligible to
vote across the coral islands. Yameen, 59, is seeking a second
Hundreds of people queued outside polling stations in the
capital, Male, early on Sunday. On some islands, people started
queuing on Saturday night.
"I am voting to revert a mistake I made in 2013. I am voting
to free President Maumoon (Gayoom)," Nazima Hassan, 44, told
Reuters after voting in Male.
Abdul Rasheed Husain, 46, in Male said he cast his ballot
for Yameen to take the Maldives "to the next level".
In the polling booth at the Maldives embassy in Colombo,
some voters had to wait for more than seven hours.
Ahamed Ihusan, a 24-year-old business management student,
told Reuters that "if it is a free and fair election, the
opposition will win".
Many opposition supporters blamed the Election Commission
for the delays.
"Yameen is trying to frustrate voters by having a shoddy
process for the elections and a long waiting time of 6-8 hours
in some stations. I appeal to all to be patient and not step
back," an opposition supporter told Reuters, asking not to be
Mohamed Shareef Hussain, Maldives envoy to Colombo, said the
Election Commission had not assigned enough staff, causing
Police late on Saturday raided the main opposition campaign
office saying they came to "stop illegal activities", after
arresting at least five opposition supporters for "influencing
voters", opposition officials said.
British Ambassador James Dauris wrote on Twitter that it was
"easy to understand why so many people are concerned about what
might happen on election day".
INTERNATIONAL MONITORS STAY AWAY
Most poll monitors, including those from the European Union
and United Nations, declined the government's invitation to
observe the election, fearing their presence might be used to
endorse Yameen's re-election even after possible vote rigging.
Rohana Hettiarachchi, a member of the Asian Network for Free
Elections (ANFREL), which was named as an election monitor, said
his organisation could not take part.
"Our four members were invited and the Election Commission
published our name in the international monitors list. But we
did not get the required visa," he told Reuters.
Transparency Maldives, one of the few election monitors on
the ground, said the initial vote had gone smoothly and that
Solih was on course for an emphatic victory.
"Our quick count results indicate that Ibrahim Mohamed Solih
has won the 2018 presidential election by a decisive margin," it
said in a statement. "We call on all stakeholders to maintain an
environment conducive for a peaceful transfer of power."
Opposition candidate Solih told supporters he was confident
"I appeal to everyone not to allow any space for unrest
tomorrow," he told a rally on Saturday. "Let the voting end
peacefully and let the people decide what they want. The people
are hungry for a change."
Yameen also urged voters to head to the polls and said he
was confident of the work he had done in his first term in
office to put the nation on a path of development.
The country has been in political turmoil since February,
when Yameen imposed a state of emergency to annul a Supreme
Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition
leaders, including Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first
democratically-elected leader and former president.
Yameen has disregarded calls from the United Nations,
several Western countries and India for an amicable solution to
Ahead of the vote, Human Rights Watch urged foreign
governments to press the Maldives to uphold democratic rights.
"Should the Maldives government fail to do so, they should
impose targeted sanctions, such as those proposed by the
European Union, against senior ruling party officials implicated
in abuses," the New York-based group said in a statement.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal
Writing by Shihar Aneez and Sanjeev Miglani
Editing by Nick Macfie and David Goodman)
First Published: 2018-09-23 06:16:48
Updated 2018-09-23 20:52:34
© 2018 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved. Reuters content is the intellectual property of Thomson Reuters or its third party content providers. Any copying, republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Thomson Reuters. Thomson Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. "Reuters" and the Reuters Logo are trademarks of Thomson Reuters and its affiliated companies.