Maldives president expected to cement grip on power in election
* Observers denounce repressive campaign, lack of
* International monitors stay away, fearing vote-rigging
* Yameen rejects calls to resolve lingering political crisis
* India, China tussling for influence in Indian Ocean
By Mohamed Junayd
MALE, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Maldives President Abdulla Yameen
is expected to cement his grip on power in an election on Sunday
that opposition and international groups have criticised for a
lack of transparency and the suppression of dissent.
The 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, as well
as the United States and European nations concerned about
Beijing's increasing influence.
Yameen's government has jailed many of his main rivals on
charges ranging from terrorism to corruption, and has introduced
new vote-counting rules that observers say will prevent them
from seeing ballots, raising doubts about the vote's legitimacy.
More than a quarter of a million people are eligible to vote
in the coral archipelago, which is best known for luxury resorts
but has struggled with democracy. Yameen, 59, is seeking a
second five-year term.
Transparency Maldives (TM), one of the few election monitors
on the ground, said the final days of campaigning had shown
people were looking forward to the vote, though it reiterated
concerns about the fairness of the electoral rules.
"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.
INTERNATIONAL MONITORS STAY AWAY
Most poll monitors including those from the European Union
and the United Nations have declined the government's invitation
to visit and observe the election, fearing their presence might
be used to endorse Yameen's re-election even after possible vote
The opposition's joint candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih,
known as Ibu, told supporters he was confident of victory
despite the obstacles faced by the opposition during campaigning
and attempts by the Elections Commission to change the rules to
favour the incumbent.
"I appeal to everyone not to allow any space for unrest
tomorrow; let the voting end peacefully and let the people
decide what they want. The people are hungry for a change and we
are sure of the result tomorrow," he told a rally on Saturday.
Votes will be counted soon after polling stations close on
Sunday and preliminary results are expected to be clear 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 mostly Muslim nation on a path of development.
"The work I am doing is national service," he said on
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
the lingering crisis.
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 Helen Popper)
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