Voters brave long queues to choose the next President; election body says about 85% turnout likely

After a nearly 12-hour polling day, Maldivian voters — who braved long queues for hours to cast their ballot — on Sunday awaited results of what has become a high-stakes election.

As many as 2,62,135 voters had a chance to choose between incumbent President Abdulla Yameen and the ‘Joint Opposition’ candidate, senior lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in a poll that the Opposition feared would be rigged. The Maldivian authorities allowed only select international observers and media to visit Male, denying visas to others that the Elections Commission had earlier accredited.

‘Most perfect election’

Terming the poll “the most perfect election” in the Maldives, Ahmed Akram, Commissioner and spokesperson at the Maldives Elections Commission, said that the voter turnout was likely to be 85% or more, hours before the total votes polled was declared.

Asked about the delay at polling centres — some voters waited for eight hours — he told The Hindu over phone: “We had planned to use tablets in all centres to verify voters’ names in the database and authenticate their IDs. But since many centres did not have adequate Internet range, we had to do the verification manually and hence needed more time.”

Ballots were being counted manually, he said.

A police raid of the Opposition’s main campaign office on the eve of election heightened concern over a possible fraudulent vote. While the polling process was peaceful, The Hindu learnt from international election observers on the ground that they were taken only to select booths chosen by the Commission. “We were not allowed to speak to anyone even in these booths,” an observer told The Hindu on Sunday evening.

The vote began at Male time 8 a.m. and was to end by 4 p.m., but continued for three more hours, almost until 7.30 p.m. “Voting time extended by 3 hours at all polling stations, to allow maximum number of eligible voters to vote,” the Maldivian Foreign Ministry tweeted, even as many Maldivians complained on Twitter about an inordinate delay at polling stations.

Sunday’s election, the third-ever multi-party presidential election since the Maldives’s transition to a democracy in 2008, generated particular interest among young voters, according to political activists across party lines. The stakes also rose in the last six months, after Mr. Yameen declared a 45-day State of Emergency that set off political unrest in the island, drawing international criticism.

As counting began at around 8 p.m., supporters of both Mr. Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives and the main Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party on Twitter claimed an “over-60% lead” citing “exit polls”.

Promise of better days

The elections came under close international scrutiny, which the government resisted, but for many voters, Sunday’s poll brought with it a promise of brighter days.

Long queues were seen outside and within the premises of the Maldivian Embassy in Colombo, where over 2,000 local Maldivians had registered to vote.

Medical student Raufa Majid was voting for the first time. “I am very happy that I have had a say. I dream of a day when the Maldives will have greater freedom of thought and expression. There should be no inequality, and everyone should have equal opportunity. Your surname should not matter,” she said, pointing to prevalent nepotism.

“Being rebellious is okay, but we can’t afford to disregard fact or basic decency while disagreeing with someone. Also, we must remember that love and loyalty to one’s country need not mean love or loyalty to a leader,” the 21-year-old said.

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