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Opposition candidate takes early lead over incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in election closely watched by India and China.
Vote counting is underway in Maldives’s presidential election, with preliminary partial results showing the pro-China mayor of the island nation’s capital, Mohamed Muizzu, taking an early lead over incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.
The outcome of Saturday’s election could determine the battle for influence between India and China in the popular Indian Ocean honeymoon destination.
Muizzu, 45, contested the vote promising to check India’s influence in the Maldives, including by expelling Indian military personnel from the archipelago. Solih, who is seeking a second five year term, drew the Maldives closer to New Delhi during his rule under an “India-first” policy, obtaining more than $1bn in loans from the giant neighbour to fund key infrastructure projects.
With more than 40 percent of ballots counted, unofficial results broadcast by Maldivian media on Saturday showed Muizzu winning 45 percent of all eligible votes, while Solih had 40 percent.
To win outright, a candidate will need more than 50 percent of the votes cast.
If not, the top two contenders will head to a runoff later in September.
Six other candidates also contested Saturday’s poll.
Coming in at third with 6.4 percent of the vote was Ilyas Labeeb, formerly a legislator with Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Labeeb is the candidate of The Democrats, a party founded by former President Mohamed Nasheed, who fell out with Solih after losing a bitterly contested presidential primary earlier this year.
“It’s clear the MDP split has cost President Solih and he will need Nasheed’s party’s support to win in a likely runoff,” said Azim Zahir, a lecturer and research fellow in international relations and politics at the University of Western Australia in Perth.
Some 282,395 people were eligible to vote in Saturday’s election.
About 27,000 of them are first time voters.
The Elections Commission said some 75 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots in Saturday’s election. The figure marks the lowest turnout in a Maldivian presidential election in recent history.