Male: Maldivians on Saturday turned out in large numbers to vote in the second round of the controversy-ridden presidential election in which ousted leader Mohamed Nasheed faces a run-off against rival Abdulla Yameen, amid intense global pressure to end months of political turmoil.
Elections Commission chief Fuwad Thowfeek said the official results of the presidential run-off will be announced on Sunday. Preliminary results, however, will be announced before midnight, he said.
Voters queued up outside polling stations as voting began at 7.30 am across the Maldives for the second round of the much delayed election to choose a new president amidst a constitutional crisis. Fuwad urged people to be patient despite the long queues and requested them to use the commission's complaints bureau for any grievances over polling.
Police said voting has been smooth so far barring a few minor incidents.
Over 20 people have been arrested from various polling stations for revealing their ballot slips after casting their vote, a criminal offence under law. Police will extend assistance to ensure a smooth transition no matter who wins the election, police commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said.
"I congratulate the candidate who wins the elections in advance. We will fully cooperate with the candidate who wins today," Riyaz said.
The Maldives has been in a state of political flux since the country's first democratically elected leader, Nasheed was forced to resign in February 2012.
The current polls mark the Maldives' third attempt to elect a new President since September. The first election on September 7 was annulled by the Supreme Court, citing the rigging of voters' lists, while the Elections Commission's attempt to hold polls on October 19 was thwarted by police after a Supreme Court ruling.
In a crucial re-vote on November 9, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chief Nasheed bagged 46.4 per cent of the votes, a marginal increase from his previous tally of 45.45 per cent votes in the September 7 polls that were annulled by the Supreme Court.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Yameen made a significant gain of nearly five per cent over the 25.35 per cent of votes he secured in the annulled polls and managed 30.3 per cent of the votes.
A run-off election announced for November 10 by the independent Elections Commission was postponed till Saturday by the Supreme Court.
After casting his vote, Yameen, the half-brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, said that he would accept the result of the run-off and expects a victory with 55 per cent to 60 per cent of the vote.
"I came to vote absolutely confident. Because we have a very grand coalition. Except the MDP all the other political parties and leaders are together with us," he said.
"But we hope there won't be huge irregularities. We see things proceeding smoothly. So God willing, we will accept the vote results," Yameen was quoted by the news portal Haveeru as saying.
Nasheed has also cast his vote.
At a rally Friday night, Nasheed said, "God willing, we will again establish a people's government in the Maldives. The Maldivian citizen's hopes will become reality. We will establish a citizens' government, a government by you."
Facing heightened international pressure, President Mohammed Waheed, who took office when Nasheed resigned under duress in February 2012, stepped down and left the country on Friday. He earlier said that he will stay on until his successor is sworn in though his legal mandate expired on November 10.
On Wednesday, the Maldives was expelled from the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which is investigating the political chaos after repeated court interventions to prevent the country's presidential elections.
After an annulled result and two cancelled polls, foreign diplomats increasingly view delays as politically motivated and the European Union has warned of 'appropriate measures' if Saturday's election fails....