Maldives election: Solih hails new dawn after claiming election win

Voting underway in controversial Maldives presidential election

Voting underway in controversial Maldives presidential election

Opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has declared victory in the Maldives' third-ever multiparty presidential elections.

Results released by the Elections Commission showed Solih, popularly known as Ibu, securing 133,808 votes compared to the 95,526 for incumbent Yameen.

Mr Yameen, who was widely tipped to retain power, had jailed or forced into exile nearly all of his main rivals.

When the Election Commission announced in June that the Presidential Election would be held on September 23, the opposition parties - Jumhooree Party, Adalath Party and a faction of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives led by Mr. Gayoom - made a decision to join hands to dethrone Mr. Yameen.

"We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory and hope that the Election Commission will officially confirm the result at the earliest", it said.

Mr Solih's win was unexpected, and opposition party members had feared Mr Yameen would rig the vote in his own favour.

During the election campaign, Yameen had presented himself as a Maldivian nationalist focused on economic development, pointing to infrastructure projects built during his term, including a 2km bridge linking Male to the global airport that opened earlier this month. Amidst growing scepticism over the Commission's independence, Akram told The Hindu from Male over telephone, "I don't know how they [critics] define free and fair election".

Transparency Maldives, a local monitoring group, said its early results had shown Solih was the victor "by a decisive margin".

Solih said his priority is to unite the country after years of heavy-handed rule under Yameen, who is yet to concede defeat.

Under the Yameen administration, China invested millions of dollars in several big-ticket infrastructure projects in the nation in a bid to reverse the nation's original "India first policy".

Party leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed, in exile in Sri Lanka, had hoped to run again but was disqualified because of an outstanding prison sentence in the Maldives.

The opposition rallied behind Mr. Solih after many opposition leaders, including Mr. Nasheed, fled into exile.

For the first time in three years, it was permitted this month to hold a rally, after the government came under pressure for not issuing permits in the past. He has been representing Lhaviyani Atoll in the Maldivian Parliament since then.

Mr. Yameen's campaign manager, Adhlee Ismail, denied in a brief telephone interview that the elections had been rigged.

"There is a huge popular groundswell in favor of change", said Mr. Solih's campaign manager, Mariya Ahmed Did.

The US State Department on Monday called on Yameen to "respect the will of the people". "Under President Yameen, everything has improved", said Latheef, who gave only one name.

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