NEW DELHI: India on Monday welcomed the unexpected victory of the Maldives opposition combine lead by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in presidential elections held on Sunday. "We welcome the successful completion of the third Presidential election process in the Maldives which, according to preliminary information, Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has won. We heartily congratulate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih on his victory and hope that the Election Commission will officially confirm the result at the earliest," said a ministry of external affairs statement released early on Monday.
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. In keeping with our 'Neighbourhood First' Policy, India looks forward to working closely with the Maldives in further deepening our partnership," the statement said. Solih who has been an MP for almost 25 years, played a key role as a close aide of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who lives in exile in Sri Lanka.
"This is a moment of happiness, a moment of hope. a moment of history. For many of us this has been a difficult journey, a journey that has led to prison cells or exile," Solih told party workers after midnight Sunday, when the election commission announced that provisional results indicated that he had won.
"It's been a journey that has ended at the ballot box. I must thank all those people who have struggled for this cause," he said, pledging to be a President for all Maldivians, regardless of who they voted for. Later on Monday, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, whose pro-China position had led to increasing frostiness in Delhi-Male relations, conceded defeated.
"Earlier today, I met with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who the Maldivian electorate has chosen to be their next president. I have congratulated him," he said in a televised address from his office. "My five-year term has been a period in which we faced a lot of difficulties. I worked to uphold the rule of law, and to prevent the effects of illegal acts from being felt by the people," he said. "In front of the Maldivian people, my work was sincere. But yesterday the Maldivian people made their decision about me. So I have decided to accept the results and stay in service to the people in any way I can," he added.
Yameen's defeat Sunday was unexpected, with most observers predicting that Yameen would rig the elections using state machinery which he had subverted. Some International observers said they had been denied access to polling booths during the almost 12-hour long elections Sunday, while those that did get access said they were not allowed to speak to anyone. Only a few selected foreign journalists were allowed to cover the elections.
But late on Sunday evening, the foreign ministry declared that "Maldivian Democratic Party candidate MP Hon Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, wins the Maldives Presidential Elections, with 134,616 votes. Of 262,135 eligible voters, 233,877 voters cast their votes at the 472 ballot boxes. This is a voter turnout of 89.22 percent. The election commission, which insists that the polls were free and fair, will formally declare the winner next Saturday.
"Candidate of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Member of Parliament Honourable Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, won the election, having received 134,616 votes. The President and Vice-President, elected today, will be sworn in on 17 November 2018," it said.
Gayoom had declared an Emergency in the country in February after the Maldivian Supreme Court ordered the release of jailed Opposition leaders. The Emergency, which evoked sharp Indian and international condemnation, was lifted after 45 days, during which he jailed several judges and opposition leaders and workers. Relations with India spiralled southwards subsequently, as Yameen started doling out major infrastructure contracts to Chinese firms while giving New Delhi the cold shoulder. The rapidly growing Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean archipelago barely 600 km south west of India had led to considerable heartburn in New Delhi.
While expressing both surprise and happiness over the results, and the fact that Yameen had "gracefully conceded defeat," an Indian official however, warned that "it might be somewhat premature to celebrate before the new government is formally sworn in. We must remember that a week is a long time in politics."