Maldives opposition leader Solih declares victory in presidential poll

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Opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the Maldives’ presidential election, results showed Monday, a surprise defeat for President Abdulla Yameen following a campaign observers said was rigged in the strongman’s favour.

Solih was backed by a united opposition intent on ousting strongman Yameen and emerged victorious despite struggling to gain public visibility  because local media faced draconian decrees and reporting restrictions.

“I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power,” Solih said on national TV shortly after official results showed he had 58% of the popular vote.

He also urged Yameen to immediately release dozens of political prisoners.

Yameen, who was widely expected to cling to power, had jailed or forced into exile most of his main rivals.

Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed, who governed the country from 2008-2012, congratulated Solih in a message on his official Twitter account.
“You have done an extremely good service not only to the people of Maldives, but also to freedom loving people everywhere. Democracy is a historical inevitability,” Nasheed wrote.

Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party accused Yameen’s government of planning electoral fraud ahead of the election and several foreign monitoring groups criticized the freedom and fairness of the election.
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL) said the election was heavily in favor of the ruling party after crackdowns on critical media outlets and arrests of opposition figures.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the election process, citing Maldivian activists who say new changes to the vote counting process will complicate verification.
“Maldives authorities have detained critics, muzzled the media, and misused the Election Commission to obstruct opposition candidates to ensure President Yameen a victory on election day,” Human Rights Watch Asia Associate Director Patricia Gossman said in a statement.
Some 262,135 people were eligible to vote in Sunday’s election, according PSM News.

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