Opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, a long-time but little-known lawmaker, declared victory at his party’s campaign headquarters in the capital city Male in a contentious election widely seen as a referendum on the island nation’s young democracy.
Supporters draped in the Maldives’ flag took to the streets, hugging one another, cheering and honking horns to celebrate Solih’s unexpected win.
Solih had 58.3 percent of the vote, with nearly 92 percent of ballots counted just after midnight Monday, according to independent newspaper website mihaaru.com. Election watchdog Transparency Maldives tweeted that Solih had won “by a decisive margin.”
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Yameen’s campaign had not conceded the race, and no one from the campaign could be immediately reached for comment.
The opposition had feared the election would be rigged in favor of strongman President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, whose first term was marked by a crackdown on political rivals, courts and the media.
In a victory speech, Solih called the election results “a moment of happiness, hope and history,” adding that he did not think the election process had been transparent.
A police raid on Solih’s main campaign office the night before the election was seen by the opposition as a worrying sign that Yameen would “muzzle his way” to re-election, according to Hamid Abdul Gafoor, an opposition spokesman and former Maldives lawmaker now based in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
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But Yameen’s critics, including Solih, say he has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms.
Few foreign media organizations were allowed in to cover the election and there had been warnings that the Maldives was slipping back to autocratic rule, just a decade after achieving democracy.
In February, Yameen declared a state of emergency, suspended the constitution and ordered troops to storm the Supreme Court and arrest judges and other rivals to stave off impeachment.
The European Union had said that it was not sending election observers because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring. The US had threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections were not free and fair.
Opposition supporters in the Maldives and in neighboring Sri Lanka, where former President Mohamed Nasheed lives in exile, decried Saturday’s raid as a naked attempt to rig the vote in favor of Yameen.
More than 2,60,000 of the Maldives’ 4,00,000 people were eligible to vote at about 400 polling stations across the approximately 1,200 islands that comprise the Indian Ocean archipelago.
Voters also stood in long lines in Malaysia, the UK, India and Sri Lanka, where the opposition had encouraged overseas Maldivians to participate.