Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish and Zaheena Rasheed
Provisional results from the Elections Commission (EC) show Maldivians have voted to return to power the family of the Maldives’ former 30 year autocracy, giving a democratic mandate to Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) candidate Abdulla Yameen.
Yameen, the brother of former autocratic President Maumoon Gayoom who ruled the Maldives for 30 years before being ousted in 2008 by Mohamed Nasheed in the country’s first multi-party elections, received 51.39 percent of the vote (111,203). Nasheed polled 48.61 percent (105,181) – a difference of just 6022 votes.
Total voter turnout was 91.41 percent (218,621), the highest since 2008, up five percent from 208,504 (86 percent) in the first round.
The election was hailed by Transparency Maldives as “credible, transparent and extremely well-administered, as were the two previous rounds.”
“While election day administration has been excellent, we believe that the real electoral issues are those of lack of political financing transparency, failure of the state to hold to account parties and individuals in violation of electoral offenses, the loopholes in the legal framework which paves way for abuse, all of which ultimately reduces trust and confidence in the electoral system,” Transparency stated.
Yameen’s election brings to an end a chapter of controversy and uncertainty over the government’s democratic legitimacy, following the ousting of Nasheed in February 2012 amid a police mutiny.
Speaking at a the PPM’s victory rally, President-elect Abdulla Yameen praised the coalition politicians as “exemplary leaders.”
Yameen said he “will never forget” that the majority voted for the PPM candidate based on the trust they had for coalition leaders.
“We worked together to save the Maldivian nation, to protect the sacred religion of Islam,” he said.
The PPM’s success was “a victory God granted for our religion and a great blessing for our beloved nation,” he added.
He also thanked his half brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, for his “hard work during our campaign,” which he said was “harder than the work he did in 2008.”
Yameen said he did not doubt that former President Mohamed Nasheed and the MDP would provide “cooperation in the Majlis” and work together with the new government.
The president-elect said it was “time for the political turmoil in the country to come to an end,” appealing for rival parties to “put aside political differences to work for the nation.”
Instead of “confronting political leaders, we will confront the big challenges facing our country,” he said. The government would be ready to sit down at the table with the MDP, he added.
“The most important thing we must do is thank Allah,” said Gayoom, speaking at the party’s victory celebration this evening. “He has given us victory. He has given his religion victory.”
Gayoom thanked the citizens of the Maldives, praised the smooth election, and congratulated Yameen and his running mate, Dr Mohamed Jameel.
He also thanked the political parties who worked with the PPM: “The biggest secret behind us winning this election is that Gasim Ibrahim joined us,” he said.
The key to Yameen’s victory indeed appears to have been the public endorsement of third-placed candidate, resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who initially remained neutral but later urged his 48,131 first round supporters to back the PPM – the vast majority of whom did as instructed.
In the first round Yameen polled 29.72 percent (61,278 votes), while Nasheed received 46.93 percent of votes (96,764). The run-off had been scheduled the following day for November 10, however Yameen declined to sign the voter lists and hours before the polls were due to open the Supreme Court ordered the poll delayed to the 16th.
In the intervening days, Yameen and former President Gayoom appealed to Gasim, promising him 33 percent of the government were he to endorse the PPM. On Wednesday the JP’s council voted with a comfortable majority to back the PPM.
The political rhetoric in the final week took a strong Islamic flavour, with Gasim and the PPM campaigning heavily against Nasheed’s religious credentials. Nasheed responded to the anti-campaigning: “I assure you, God willing, there will not be any room for another religion in this country as long as we draw breath,” he said, during the MDP’s final rally in Male on Friday night.
Yameen, who earlier in the day had complained about the integrity of the ballot papers’ security features, took and maintained a two percent lead throughout much of the counting, consistently gaining most of the JP’s support base at the majority of ballot boxes.
At a press conference held at Male City Hall Nasheed conceded defeat but noted the narrow margin.
“We have half the country behind us. And therefore I wouldn’t see many challenges for us to face the next local council elections and the parliamentary elections. So we should be doing that. One thing we should not contemplate would be to overthrow the government by street action or by direct action. We must adhere to democratic principles,” he stated.
“It is early for us to analyse the results and exactly pinpoint where we’ve lost but what is very clear is that we have lost by a very small margin. That is an indication of the outlook of the country. On the one hand, you have half the country who wants to progress in the light that we see the country and there is another half of the country who wants to remain as PPM sees the country. In my view, democracy is a process. And it is going to take time before we are able to proceed as a normal democratic country. Also in my view, it is our responsibility as an opposition party to make sure that democracy survives,” stated Nasheed.
Asked by reporters if he feared for his safety, he said: “I will go wherever I have to go.”
“We have repeatedly said, when you fall get up and run. When you lose, be courageous and in victory, be magnanimous,” he added.
Asked about his political future, the former President noted: “I am just 46.”
Troubled months of polls
Despite repeated delays, annulments and police obstruction of multiple polls – today’s vote was the sixth attempt organised by the Elections Commission in just two months – the MDP failed to build sufficiently on its apparent core support base of 95,000-100,000 people to defeat the combined last-minute Gasim-Yameen coalition.
The MDP obtained just under 100,000 votes in November 9 revote and the Supreme Court-annulled September 7 poll, falling short of the 50 percent needed to avert a run-off. The first annulled vote, which also saw Gasim placed third, was annulled after he complained of irregularities to the Supreme Court.
The run-off scheduled for September 28 was put on hold by an indefinite injunction from the Supreme Court, and ultimately annulled in a controversial 4:3 decision by the Supreme Court bench. The eventual revote on October 19 was obstructed by police, after Yameen and Gasim refused to sign the voter registry – one of the Supreme Court’s new requirements, effectively giving candidates power to veto polls.
The MDP’s “costed and budgeted” campaign focused on social welfare issues such as state-provided healthcare, housing, entertainment and youth, as well as economic diversity and increasing agriculture to reduce dependency on food imports.
Yameen campaigned heavily on a platform of law and order, calling for enhanced police powers, implementation of Sharia and the execution of the death penalty.
The party pledged harsher prison sentences for crimes such as ‘obstruction of police duty’, and promised short turnarounds on criminal investigations, the installation of mass surveillance mechanisms and state-of-the-art forensic facilities. The party also accused the MDP’s youth policy, dubbed ‘Entertainment without Fear’, of targeting the country’s drug addicts and prison population.
Yameen also pledged to pursue oil exploration and encourage foreign investment in its extraction.
The PPM further targeted young voters, promising both the creation of desirable jobs, and the transformation of Hulhumale into a “Youth City” with apartments for young people otherwise unable to start married life due to a lack of housing options in the congested capital city of Male. He pledged to build a bridge connecting the island to Male, and introduce 90,000 new jobs for young people across the Maldives by the end of his five year term.
Yameen also pledged to halve the presidential salary, increase civil servant salaries and slash the wages of political appointees by 30-50 percent should he be elected, as well as cut the salaries of independent institutions – which include the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) – a step he has described as pivotal for the country to avoid a sovereign default.
Yameen’s running mate and incoming Vice President is Dr Mohamed Jameel, former Justice Minister under Gayoom and Home Minister during Waheed’s tenure. The new President is expected to be sworn in by parliament tomorrow morning following the Election Commission’s announcement of the official results.