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article imageMaldives strongman challenges election defeat

By Amal JAYASINGHE (AFP)     Oct 10, 2018 in World

Maldives strongman President Abdulla Yameen filed a legal challenge Wednesday against his recent landslide election defeat despite international pressure for him to go quietly.

Yameen, whose main political rivals were either in jail or in exile for the September 23 vote but was unexpectedly beaten by a unity opposition candidate, had already conceded defeat.

But lawyers for Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) told reporters that they are alleging the poll was rigged by the independent election commission in a challenge filed with the Supreme Court.

"We reviewed the numerous complaints filed by President Yameen's supporters before deciding to file this challenge," Yameen's lead lawyer Mohamed Saleem said.

"So in light of that, President Yameen decided that the challenge must be filed for the rights of his supporters," he added.

It was however unclear whether the Indian Ocean archipelago nation's Supreme Court would agree to consider the challenge and the opposition expressed hope that it would be thrown out.

The election in the honeymoon paradise, which has seen a tussle for influence between India and China, was won by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with 58.4 percent of the vote.

Solih was little known before the election but was backed, in a remarkable turn of events given the Maldives' turbulent recent political history, by all opposition parties.

The United States and the European Union had threatened sanctions if the vote was not free and fair and if Yameen, 59, who has borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects, did not accept the result.

Yameen had reluctantly said he would leave office in November but he has been publicly urging his supporters to challenge the results.

Constitutionally, he can remain in office till November 17 when he has to hand over to Solih, barring any last minute court intervention.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, spokesman for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said the challenge was "an attempt by Yameen to create unrest" but that the Supreme Court would likely throw it out.

"Since the elections results were released, he has tried to get people to protest outside the Election Commission and was unable to get more than 25 to 30 people," said Ghafoor, who like much of the opposition is based in nearby Sri Lanka.

"By going to court, he is trying to create an issue and get people to join his protests," he said.

“Given the fact that the transition is going on smoothly and the international community has accepted the verdict of the people, we don't think the courts will entertain this petition to overturn the results."

- Going home -

Last week, former Maldives leader Mohamed Nasheed announced he would return home two years after going into exile.

He was barred from contesting the election won by his party's nominee Solih, who defeated Yameen despite what critics said was a biased media and a rigged system.

Nasheed was the country's first democratically elected president but was sentenced to 13 years in prison for terrorism in 2015, in a trial the UN said was politically motivated.

He went into exile a year later, after being granted prison leave for medical treatment in Britain.

Another former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was last week released from jail just days after Yameen, his estranged half-brother, lost the election.

Gayoom, 80, and his legislator son Faris Maumoon, were released on bail by the High Court in Male, raising hopes that other political prisoners will be freed soon.

Former foes Nasheed and Gayoom both backed Solih to challenge Yameen.

Gayoom had ruled the nation of 340,000 Sunni Muslims for 30 years until he was defeated by Nasheed in the Maldives' first multi-party elections in 2008.

Gayoom, along with several top judges, was arrested in February and charged with trying to overthrow Yameen.

The president responded by declaring a 45-day state of emergency to block his impeachment, prompting an international outcry.

Another high-profile dissident, Qasim Ibrahim, has also been granted bail and returned home last week from exile in Europe.

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