Male, September 30
Opposition candidate Mohamed Muiz appeared to be headed for a win in the Maldives presidential runoff on Saturday, securing more than 53 per cent of the vote after almost all the ballots were counted, local media reported.
The election has turned into a virtual referendum on which regional power — India or China — will have the biggest influence in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation.
Mihaaru News reported that incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had received 46 per cent of the vote and Muiz was leading by 17,000 votes, with only 11,000 votes still to be counted. Official results are expected later on Saturday.
It would be a surprise win for Muiz, who entered the fray as an underdog and was named only as a fallback candidate closer to the nomination deadline after the Supreme Court prevented his party’s leader and former President Abdulla Yameen from contesting because he is serving a prison sentence for money laundering and corruption.
Neither Muiz nor Solih got more than 50 per cent in the first round of voting earlier in September.
Solih, who was first elected president in 2018, was battling allegations by Muiz that he had allowed India an unchecked presence in the country. Muiz's party, the People's National Congress, is viewed as heavily pro-China.
Solih has insisted that the Indian military’s presence in the Maldives was only to build a dockyard under an agreement between the two governments and that his country’s sovereignty will not be violated.
Muiz promised that if he won the presidency, he would remove Indian troops from the Maldives and balance the country’s trade relations, which he said were heavily in India’s favor.
An engineer, Muiz had served as the housing minister for seven years. He was mayor of Male, the capital, when he was chosen to run for president.
Solih suffered a setback closer to the election when Mohamed Nasheed, a charismatic former president, broke away from his Maldivian Democratic Party and fielded his own candidate in the first round. He decided to remain neutral in the second round.
Yameen, leader of the People’s National Congress, made the Maldives a part of China’s Belt and Road initiative during his presidency from 2013 to 2018.
The initiative is meant to build railroads, ports and highways to expand trade — and China's influence — across Asia, Africa and Europe.
The Maldives is made up of 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean located by the main shipping route between the East and the West.
“These five years have been the most peaceful and prosperous five years we've ever seen. We have had political peace, opposition candidates are not jailed every day,” said Abdul Muhusin, who said he voted for Solih in the runoff on Saturday.
Another voter, Saeedh Hussein, said he chose Muiz because “I want the Indian military to leave Maldives.”
“I don't believe the Maldivian military has any control. Only Muiz can change these things and make the Indian military leave Maldives,” he said.
There were more than 282,000 eligible voters and turnout was 78 per cent an hour before the polling stations closed.
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