Opposition leader Solih says he has won Maldives election
* Opposition says has 16-point lead from 92 pct of votes
* Solih asks Yameen to accept defeat, ensure smooth
* Voters queue from Saturday night; police raid opposition
* Observers denounce repressive campaign, lack of
* International monitors stay away, fearing vote-rigging
(Recasts, adds Solih quotes, detail)
By Mohamed Junayd
MALE, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Maldives opposition leader Ibrahim
Mohamed Solih, who fought a bitter election campaign against
President Abdulla Yameen, said he had won Sunday's presidential
vote with a 16 percent margin after 92 percent of the votes had
Provisional results counted in 446 of 472 ballot boxes by
1943 GMT showed the opposition leading by a margin of 16.6
percent, news website Mihaaru reported.
"This is a moment of happiness, a moment of hope. This is a
journey that has ended at the ballot box because the people
willed it," Solih, popularly known as Ibu, told reporters in
"The message is loud and clear. The people of Maldives want
change, peace and justice. I would like to call on President
Yameen to accept the will of the people and begin a smooth
transition of power as per the constitution."
Hundreds of people gathered outside the main opposition
campaign centre in Male in jubilant mood, chanting "Ibu, Ibu,
Ibu" and calling on President Yameen to concede defeat.
Yameen had been 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.
The Indian Ocean nation's Election Commission had extended
voting by three hours because of long queues at polling
stations, and officials from Yameen's PPM party told Reuters
that results from areas where he has strong support have yet to
"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 Election Commission said it will release official
results by Sept. 30, as stipulated in the constitution.
Yameen's media representatives declined to comment on
The Muslim-majority 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.
More than a quarter of a million people were eligible to
vote across the coral islands, where 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".
In the polling booth at the Maldives embassy in Colombo,
some voters had to wait for more than seven hours.
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."
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.
Nasheed, who is in exile in Sri Lanka, told reporters in
Colombo that the vote was for democracy and freedom.
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 22:43:48
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