Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the opposition presidential candidate in the Maldives, claimed victory in the election early morning on Monday, Sept. 24. Solih defeated incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom in what was described as “unexpected” by the Associated Press. Many voters believed there would be fraud committed by the President and his allies, as Al Jazeera reported, and thus the election would swing in Yameen’s favour. However, Solih ended up winning decidedly, garnering 58.3% of the popular vote. The election enjoyed a staggering 89% voter turnout.
President Yameen has been notorious in recent years for his crackdown against his opponents. He has jailed and exiled his political rivals, and even went so far as to jail two Supreme Court justices who defied him when they ordered the release of opposition leaders. He also infamously jailed his half-brother and former President of the Maldives, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on conspiracy charges. President Gayoom and his son were allegedly tortured by the police during their incarceration, and Yameen’s administration was subsequently heavily criticized by civil rights organizations. Actions like these left the Maldivian people desiring a new president who would hold themselves to a higher standard and be a better representative for all the people of the Maldives.
Solih was running as the candidate for Maldives’ Democratic Party and ran on a campaign promoting human rights and democracy. Yameen’s party, the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), ran a campaign mainly focused on economic development. In a final push to garner more votes, Yameen promised housing for all citizens and made bold claims about the employment rate should he not win. He was desperate to appeal to voters, as many were disapproving of his actions as president.
President Yameen eventually conceded the loss on a live television broadcast, admitting, “I know I have to step down now.” All parties are hopeful for a peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next. During his victory speech, President-elect Solih said, “I would like to call upon President Abdulla Yameen and ask him to respect the will of the people and to immediately begin the smooth transition of power.”
Conditions prior to the election seemed ripe for the fraud that many feared. The police raided the Democratic Party’s headquarters claiming they were investigating claims of votes being influenced. According to Al Jazeera, many saw the raid as a desperate attempt by Yameen’s party to disrupt the election process. Following this, the EU decided they wouldn’t send their election observers, as they deemed that the Maldives did not meet the basic conditions that they require for monitoring. The situation looked so grim, the U.S. even threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the election was not free and fair, according to the Washington Post.
Luckily for the Maldivian people, the election appeared to occur without any major snags. The polling locations dealt with long lines due to the eagerness of the citizenry to cast their ballots. Voters stuck it out through rain and hot weather to participate in the significant election. After Solih ended his victory speech, ecstatic supporters celebrated in the street of Malé, the nation’s capital. A crowd gathered in front of the Democratic Party’s campaign headquarters to revel the victory.
The election comes as a big win for democracy in the nation. Yameen’s regime was known for its oppressiveness and numerous human rights violations, so being able to move toward a new era with a new, democratically-elected president is a big step forward for the country.