Maldives election expected to cement president's grip on power
* Voters queue from Saturday night; police raid opposition
* Observers denounce repressive campaign, lack of
* International monitors stay away, fearing vote-rigging
(Adds start of voting, quotes)
By Mohamed Junayd
MALE, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Maldives President Abdulla Yameen
is expected to cement his grip on power in the tropical
archipelago in an election on Sunday that opposition and
international groups have criticised for a lack of transparency
and the suppression of dissent.
The Muslim-majority Indian Ocean nation of 400,000 people
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
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.
More than a quarter of a million people are eligible to vote
in around 400 polling booths across the coral islands, best
known in the West for their luxury resorts. Yameen, 59, is
seeking a second five-year term.
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".
Transparency Maldives (TM), one of the few election monitors
on the ground, reiterated concerns about the fairness of the
"Obviously, there are many issues with the electoral
process, but we are hoping that the people will be given the
space to exercise their fundamental right," Ahmed Tholal, TM's
senior project coordinator, told Reuters.
"Having said that, the situation continues to be volatile
and unpredictable," he added.
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 Duaris said in a twitter message
said 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 the United Nations have 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.
The opposition's joint candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih,
known as Ibu, told supporters he was confident of victory.
"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."
Preliminary results are expected by midnight (1900 GMT).
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)
© 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.