Pro-China frontrunner Mohamed Muizzu was set to win Saturday’s presidential vote in the Maldives, according to local media tallies, after a campaign dominated by the archipelago’s relationship with traditional benefactor India.
Muizzu was ahead of incumbent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with 53.92 percent of the vote and a lead of more than 17,000 ballots.
The frontrunner’s supporters were seen dancing in the streets as local broadcaster TVM and news website Dhauru called the election in his favor.
“He has won, he has won,” a crowd chanted outside the campaign office of Muizzu’s party in the capital Male.
Muizzu helms a party that presided over an influx of Chinese loans when it last held power in the atoll nation, better known for its luxury beach resorts and celebrity tourists.
He has signaled a return to Beijing’s fold if he wins.
Solih, 61, had worked to revert the country’s diplomatic posture back towards New Delhi since taking office five years ago.
He was expected to make a statement later Saturday. If Solih concedes defeat, he will remain president until the inauguration scheduled for November 17.
An Elections Commission official said they were confident of declaring a provisional result later Saturday or early Sunday.
Turnout was expected to top the 80 percent recorded during a first-round vote held earlier this month.
“Queues formed long before polling opened,” one official told AFP, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Watchdog group Transparency Maldives said there had been some incidents of “electoral violence,” without specifying further details.
Officials said one voter broke open a plastic ballot box, but the ballots were saved and there was no interruption to the count.
Police reported arresting 14 people, mostly for taking photographs of their marked ballot papers and sharing them on social media.
- Geopolitical hotspot –
The Maldives sits in a strategically vital position in the middle of the Indian Ocean, astride one of the world’s busiest east-west shipping lanes.
Muizzu’s party was an eager recipient of financial largesse from China’s Belt and Road infrastructure programme.
His mentor, former president Abdulla Yameen, borrowed heavily from China for construction projects and spurned India.
Solih was elected in 2018 on the back of discontent with Yameen’s increasingly autocratic rule, accusing him of pushing the country into a Chinese debt trap.
Yameen’s turn towards Beijing had also alarmed New Delhi, which shares concerns with the United States and its allies about China’s growing assertiveness in the Indian Ocean.
India is a member of the strategic Quad alliance alongside the United States, Australia and Japan.
But Solih’s restoration of the Maldives’ traditional posture itself proved controversial, with many in the archipelago disapproving of India’s outsized political and economic clout.
Muizzu has vowed if elected to free his mentor Yameen, currently serving an 11-year sentence for corruption on the same prison island where he had jailed many of his political opponents during his tenure.
The 45-year-old emerged as a candidate after Yameen’s conviction barred the former president from running for public office.
by Mohamed VISHAM
©️ Agence France-Presse