Maldives Opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who fought a bitter election campaign against Abdulla Yameen, won Sunday's presidential vote after securing 58.3 percent of the popular vote. The election in the Maldives was being closely watched by India and China, who are jostling to influence the Indian Ocean nations.
Nearly 90 percent of the 262,000 electorates turned out to vote, with some waiting in line for more than five hours as officials encountered technical glitches.
Solih had the backing of a united Opposition trying to oust Yameen but struggled for visibility with the electorate, with the local media fearful of falling afoul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
He was a democracy activist during decades of autocratic rule and a former Parliament majority leader. He became the Maldivian Democratic Party's (MDP) presidential candidate after its other top figures were jailed or exiled by Yameen's government.
Though well known for his reform efforts, Solih has been a lawmaker since 1994. He maintained a low-profile until he began campaigning in the run-up to Sunday's polls, according to The Hindu.
He has been MDP's parliamentary group leader since early 2011 and has also served as the leader of the joint parliamentary group since the Opposition coalition was formed in March 2017, according to The Maldives Independent.
Solih was among the MPs who tried – and were denied the right – to register the country's first independent political party in 2003. He also has a cross-party appeal. "It is crucial to note that as a lawmaker Solih has enjoyed cross-party appeal more than any other," Azim Zahir, a Maldivian researcher based in western Australia, was quoted as saying by The Guardian.
After the results, Solih said, "This is a moment of happiness, a moment of hope. This is a journey that has ended at the ballot box because the people willed it." He also urged the incumbent to immediately release scores of political prisoners.
Yameen, who was widely tipped to retain power, had jailed or forced into exile almost all of his main rivals. Before the polls opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition MDP and searched the building for several hours in a bid to stop what they called "illegal activities". There were no arrests.
India was the first to "heartily congratulate" Solih on his victory. "We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory and hope that the Election Commission will officially confirm the result at the earliest," Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement.
"This election marks not only the triumph of democratic forces in the Maldives but also reflects the firm commitment to the values of democracy and the rule of law," it further said.
Solih, according to the BBC, leans more towards India unlike his predecessor Yameen, who had drifted towards China in recent years. Analysts told the BBC that Beijing fears any change in government that could affect its interests, while India is concerned about Yameen's cosy ties with China.
Despite Yameen's defeat, observers believe that China will be able to work with his successor and its influence will not suddenly diminish. "If President Yameen loses, China will be able to work with the next leader, as it has shown in the case of Sri Lanka after the 2015 election," The New York Times quoted Nilanthi Samaranayake, a South Asia analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses, as saying. For small nations in the region, China’s appeal as a source of money for development "transcends domestic politics", Samaranayake added.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Sep 24, 2018 15:04 PM