Pro-China front runner set to win Maldives presidency, local media says

Pro-China front runner 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 per cent of the vote and a lead of more than 17,000 ballots.

The front-runner’s supporters were seen dancing in the streets as local broadcaster TVM and news website Dhauru called the election in his favour.

“He has won, he has won,” a crowd chanted outside the campaign office of Muizzu’s party in the capital Male.

Voting in Maldives: nation that’s a hotbed of rivalry between India and China

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 signalled 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 on Saturday or early Sunday. Turnout was expected to top the 80 per cent recorded during a first-round vote held earlier this month.

Maldives President Ibrahim Solih casts his vote during the second round of a presidential election in Male on Saturday. Photo: Reuters

“Queues formed long before polling opened,” one official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorised 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.

Jailing of Maldives’ China-leaning former leader could fan anti-India tensions

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 Initiative, Beijing’s plan to grow world trade. 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.

Supporters of Mohamed Muizzu shout slogans along a street in Male on Saturday to demand the release of former Maldives president Abdulla Yameen. Photo: AFP

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 outsize 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.

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