Athletic

Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

The strongman leader of the Maldives on

Monday conceded defeat in the presidential election, easing fears of a fresh

political crisis in the archipelago at the centre of a battle for influence

between India and China.

The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the

results from yesterday, President Abdulla Yameen said in a televised address

to the Indian Ocean nation a day after the joint opposition candidate

unexpectedly triumphed.

Earlier today, I met with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who the Maldivian

electorate has chosen to be their next president. I have congratulated him,

Yameen said.

He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and

ensure a smooth transition in the 1,200-island nation, popular with foreign

tourists for its white sands and blue lagoons.

Solih's victory was a major surprise, with Yameen's main political rivals

either in prison or in exile, media coverage of the opposition sparse and

monitors and the opposition predicting vote-rigging.

There had been concerns Yameen might not accept the result given what

happened after the last election in 2013.

The Supreme Court annulled that result after Yameen trailed former

president Mohamed Nasheed giving Yameen time to forge alliances and win a

second round of voting that was postponed twice.

Results released by the electoral commission showed Yameen on 41.7 percent

of the vote, well behind Solih on 58.3 percent the only other name on

ballot papers.

The final official result will take up to a week to be published.

Yameen stayed quiet overnight after the outcome became clear. But signs

grew Monday that he would throw in the towel, with a foreign ministry

statement saying Solih had won and state media showing him claiming victory.

Nearly 90 percent of the 262,000 electorate turned out to vote, with some

waiting in line for more than five hours.

Celebrations broke out across the archipelago on Sunday night, with

opposition supporters waving yellow flags of Solih's Maldivian Democratic

Party (MDP) and dancing in the streets.

On Monday the situation was calm.

The US State Department, which had warned of appropriate measures if the

vote was not free and fair, had called on Yameen to respect the will of the

people. Regional superpower India said the result marked the triumph of

democratic forces. But China was yet to comment, with Monday being a public

holiday there.

Beijing loaned Yameen's government hundreds of millions of dollars for

infrastructure projects like the new China-Maldives Friendship Bridge from

the airport to the capital Male, which opened in August.

The loans stoked fears among Western countries and India about China's

growing influence under its Belt and Road Initiative stretching from Asia

into Africa and Europe.

Media fearful

Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen but

struggled for visibility. The local media was fearful of falling foul of

heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.

In February Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency, alarming the

international community, in what was seen as an attempt to block a push by

his opponents in parliament to impeach him.

A crackdown saw former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom Yameen's half-

brother jailed along with the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court

justice.

Independent international monitors were barred from Sunday's election and

only a handful of foreign media were allowed in to cover the poll.

The government had used vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to

intimidate and imprison critics, some of whom had been assaulted and even

murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.

Solih pledged on Twitter before the election that he would open

investigations into the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, missing

since 2014, and the fatal stabbing of blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.

He promised also to repeal anti-defamation legislation and ensure press

freedom.

Foreign monitors said Yameen's supporters failed to carry out any large-

scale fraud thanks to intense international and local scrutiny from civil

society groups.

In the face of massive pressure, they had to abandon their plans, Rohana

Hettiarachchi of the Asian Network for Free Elections told AFP.

Source: Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS)