Maldives Voters Flock to Polls 09/23 10:07
MALE, Maldives (AP) -- A raid on the opposition's main campaign office and
the specter of U.S. sanctions on government officials did not deter thousands
of people from voting Sunday in the Maldives' presidential election, widely
seen as a referendum on the island nation's young democracy.
As officials began tabulating votes after the polls closed at 7 p.m., people
in the Maldives and observers outside the tiny, tropical South Asian country
waited for the results to see whether the opposition's cries of a rigged vote
would be validated.
Famed for its white-sand beaches and luxury resorts, the Maldives under
President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who is seeking re-election, has seen economic
growth and longer life expectancy, according to the World Bank. But Yameen's
critics, including the opposition presidential candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed
Solih, say he has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms, jailing
rivals and controlling the courts.
Aiman Rasheed of the independent watchdog group Transparency Maldives
described Sunday's vote as "a referendum on authoritarianism versus freedom."
What's at stake in the small South Asian country came into sharp focus on
Saturday, when police in Male, the capital, raided Solih's main campaign
office, citing police intelligence that the office was being used to organize
vote-buying, according to a copy of a police warrant obtained by The Associated
The warrant also said that Solih's senior campaign official Ahmed Shahid was
suspected of bribing voters. Repeated calls to Shahid went unanswered, but a
Solih campaign spokesman said no one was arrested.
Opposition supporters in the Maldives and in neighboring Sri Lanka, where
former President Mohamed Nasheed lives in exile, decried the raid as a naked
attempt to rig the vote in favor of Yameen.
After several phone calls and messages, and a visit to Male police
headquarters, police spokesman Ahmed Shiffan declined to answer the AP's
questions about the raid.
Despite the turmoil, voters flocked to the polls, standing in long lines in
rain and high temperatures to cast ballots. The polls were scheduled to close
at 4 p.m., but opening hours were extended until 7 p.m. due to high voter
turnout, said election commission spokesman Ahmed Akram.
Outside a polling station at the Imauddin School in Male, aviation worker
Mohamed Ismail, 23, said he cast his ballot for Solih because "people live in
fear" under strongman President Yameen, who took office in 2013.
Yameen used his first term in office to consolidate power, jailing
opponents, including his half brother, a former president, and two Supreme
Court Justices, and asserting control over the courts.
The European Union said Friday that it was not sending election observers
because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring.
The U.S. has threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections are
not free and fair.
"Look around. People are moving freely," said Adam Thaufeeg, a 40-year-old
government employee. He said he voted for Yameen because of his vision for
developing the Maldives.
More than 260,000 of the Maldives' 400,000 people were eligible to vote at
about 400 polling stations across the islands that comprise the Indian Ocean
Election officials said the first results could be announced late Sunday