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A sea-change in Maldives politics as opposition presidential candidate declares a win

Contestants of the Maldives 2018 Presidential Election - Incumbent President Abdulla Yameen and Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Two contestants of the Maldives 2018 Presidential Election: Left: Incumbent President Abdulla Yameen. Right: Opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. Image via Wikimedia Commons from Public Domain.

The Maldives, an archipelago nation situated in the Indian Ocean, has faced political turbulence as citizens at home and abroad lined up to vote on Sunday, September 23 in the 2018 presidential elections.

Incumbent Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom of the Progressive Party (PPM) ran against opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Under Yameen's leadership, the island has faced a series of political crises that left citizens desperate for change.

Solih has been a member of parliament since 1994 and played an instrumental role in establishing multi-party democracy in the Maldives in 2009.

According to the BBC as of 2 a.m. in the Maldives (GMT+5) Solih “said he had won by a 16 percent margin over incumbent Abdulla Yameen, with 92 percent of votes counted” and urged for a peaceful transition on the troubled islands.

A fragile democracy

Yameen was elected president in controversial 2013 elections in which he defeated former president Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who worked to establish a multi-party system alongside Solih.

In fiercely contested 2013 election results, Naheed and the MDP claimed a clear lead. But strong disputes led to the annulment of the original election. Yameen ultimately won with a very narrow margin in the re-elections and Nasheed was forced into exile.

In his first five-year term, Yameen has gained notoriety for the imprisonment or forced exile of many of his political rivals. He boldly locked down parliament after a vote of no-confidence and survived a few impeachment attempts through creative measures such as the anti-defection ruling, which prevents members of parliament from switching parties.

Yameen's government has been accused of silencing dissent and media crackdowns, including the arrest and exile of journalists and newspaper shutdowns. Yameen also pulled the Maldives from The Commonwealth in 2016 after threats about its human rights record.

In September 2016, Al Jazeera released Stealing Paradise, an investigative report that revealed how President Yameen and his associates embezzled millions of dollars, bribed judges and other high-level officials and maneuvered to remove government workers who got in the way.

Yameen survived a judicial coup in February 2018 when the Supreme Court overturned the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Nasheed who remained in exile. The court reversed its decision after Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of two judges.

Last June, Nasheed decided to exit the presidential race after the Election Commission barred the candidacy to anyone convicted of criminal charges, leaving the opposition coalition to chose Solih for the 2018 elections.

Unprecedented voter turn out

The Maldives election commission boasted an “extraordinary high turnout” from its pool of 250,000 potential voters and extended polling by three hours as voters complained of long delays in the voting process.

No violence or disruptions were reported as per government sources:

Free and fair elections?

On the eve of Sunday's election, international election monitors who were banned from the Maldives expressed concerns about a free and fair election after Maldivian police raided opposition campaign headquarters.

Opposition leaders also expressed concerns about a free and fair election. In a recent press release, the Maldives Election Commission refuted claims of vote rigging and massive voter fraud.

A vote for change

Maldivian citizens impatient for democratic change stood in long lines, sometimes up to eight hours, to cast their votes.

Early polling results showed a clear lead for opposition candidate Solih.

Live statistics from the Maldives news portal Miharuu.com showed voter turnout at 88 percent of the eligible 262,135 voters. Another site called mvdemocracy.com continues to stream live results.

Maldivian citizens eager for a new beginning, especially when it comes to measures to protect the archipelago from the negative impact of climate change, will watch carefully in the coming days to see how the transition plays out.

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