Maldives president challenges election defeat

Abdulla Yameen contests presidential vote result weeks after conceding defeat, citing rigging and electoral fraud.

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    Abdulla Yameen lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent [Handout/ Maldives President's Office]
    Abdulla Yameen lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent [Handout/ Maldives President's Office]

    Maldives President Abdulla Yameen has filed a court challenge against his election loss citing "serious allegations of vote rigging" and fraud.

    The complaint was filed at the island nation's Supreme Court on Wednesday, according to Mohamed Saleem, the president's lawyer. 

    In a Twitter post close to midnight, the department of judicial administration said the top court had agreed to hear the case. 

    Yameen lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent to opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, in an outcome hailed as a win for democracy in the crisis-hit Indian Ocean archipelago.

    The result was widely accepted, including by the United States, China, India, and the European Union.

    Yameen, accused of massive corruption and cracking down on dissent, initially conceded defeat but has since challenged the results, alleging widespread irregularities in the vote.

    But the president, who says he will stay on in office until the end of his term on November 17, has offered little evidence to back his claim. 

    Saleem, the president's lawyer, told a pro-government television station that Yameen filed a "constitutional case" at the top court, but declined to reveal details of the case, saying he will file evidence at the court.

    Saleem confirmed to Al Jazeera that the case had been submitted, but did not clarify if the president was seeking to overturn the election results.

    In a statement on Tuesday, the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) said it was seeking legal recourse through the courts because the party has "been overwhelmed with numerous genuine concerns related to the elections, including serious allegations of vote rigging, fraud, malpractice and corruption". 

    The party said it turned to the courts after police informed them that a court order was necessary to investigate any election-related complaints. 

    The elections commission has previously dismissed the PPM's allegations of electoral fraud as baseless. 

    'Running out of options'

    Mariya Ahmed Didi, spokesperson for president-elect Solih, said Yameen must respect the results of the election, telling reporters in the country's capital Male that it was "hard to believe that a court" would overturn the election result.  

    The president-elect, who won the election with more than 58 percent of the vote, has vowed to restore democracy, release dissidents and investigate allegations of corruption against Yameen.

    He was backed at the last minute by a coalition of four opposition parties whose leaders were either jailed or forced into exile during Yameen's tenure. 

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    Ahmed Mahloof, an opposition politician, said Yameen's latest move showed "options are running out" for him.

    "He's in a very tight place right now," the legislator said. 

    That's because many high profile prisoners, including Yameen's half-brother former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, have been released on bail since the election, Mahloof said, while dissidents in exile have started to return to the country.

    Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first freely elected president whose arrest and jailing in 2015 triggered the Maldives' protracted crisis, is expected to end his exile in the United Kingdom and return on November 1. 

    With the tables turning, Mahloof said, Yameen was now facing impeachment through the parliament, where the opposition was hoping to regain its parliamentary majority.

    Yameen had stripped a dozen legislators of their seats after they defected to the opposition last year in order to preserve control over the 85-member house. But the Supreme Court reinstated four of the twelve earlier this week, raising hopes that the opposition could prevail in the parliament. 

    However, Mahloof said there was uncertainty about what the top court may do next, as the court was perceived as loyal to the president. He had sent in the army to arrest two of the court's five judges in February, and parliament later sacked the pair and appointed judges widely perceived as loyalists to the vacant posts. 

    Transparency Maldives, an election monitoring group, called Yameen's move on Wednesday "troubling". 

    It noted the Supreme Court in 2013 annulled the results of a first round of voting after Yameen came in second. He later won that election by a margin of 6,000 votes. 

    "Although the pre-election environment was marred with serious issues, we note that the election day process was fairly smooth and any issues that were observed on election day were minor and would not affect the outcome of the elections," the group's executive director Mariyam Shiuna said in a statement to Al Jazeera. 

    Mahloof meanwhile called on the security forces to prepare to defend the election results.

    Both the army and the police have previously said they would uphold the results of the vote.  

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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