Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

Supporters of Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the president-elect of the Maldives celebrate their victory in the presidential election in Male, Maldives, Monday, Sept. 24, 2018. (AP)
Updated 24 September 2018
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Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

  • The Maldivian people have decided what they want,” President Abdulla Yameen said
  • He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition

COLOMBO: The strongman leader of the Maldives on Monday conceded defeat in the presidential election, easing fears of a fresh political crisis in the archipelago at the center of a battle for influence between India and China.
“The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results from yesterday,” President Abdulla Yameen said in a televised address to the Indian Ocean nation a day after the joint opposition candidate unexpectedly triumphed.
“Earlier today, I met with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who the Maldivian electorate has chosen to be their next president. I have congratulated him,” Yameen said.
He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition in the 1,200-island nation, popular with foreign tourists for its white sands and blue lagoons.
Solih’s victory was a major surprise, with Yameen’s main political rivals either in prison or in exile, media coverage of the opposition sparse and monitors and the opposition predicting vote-rigging.
There had been concerns Yameen might not accept the result given what happened after the last election in 2013.
The Supreme Court annulled that result after Yameen trailed former president Mohamed Nasheed — giving Yameen time to forge alliances and win a second round of voting that was postponed twice.
Results released by the electoral commission showed Yameen on 41.7 percent of the vote, well behind Solih on 58.3 percent — the only other name on ballot papers.
The final official result will take up to a week to be published.
Yameen stayed quiet overnight after the outcome became clear. But signs grew Monday that he would throw in the towel, with a foreign ministry statement saying Solih had won and state media showing him claiming victory.
Nearly 90 percent of the 262,000 electorate turned out to vote, with some waiting in line for more than five hours.
Celebrations broke out across the archipelago on Sunday night, with opposition supporters waving yellow flags of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and dancing in the streets.
On Monday the situation was calm.
The US State Department, which had warned of “appropriate measures” if the vote was not free and fair, had called on Yameen to “respect the will of the people.”
Regional superpower India said the result marked “the triumph of democratic forces.” But China was yet to comment, with Monday being a public holiday there.
Beijing loaned Yameen’s government hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects like the new “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” from the airport to the capital Male, which opened in August.
The loans stoked fears among Western countries and India about China’s growing influence under its “Belt and Road Initiative” stretching from Asia into Africa and Europe.
Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen but struggled for visibility. The local media was fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
In February Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency, alarming the international community, in what was seen as an attempt to block a push by his opponents in parliament to impeach him.
A crackdown saw former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — Yameen’s half-brother — jailed along with the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice.
Independent international monitors were barred from Sunday’s election and only a handful of foreign media were allowed in to cover the poll.
The government had used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom had been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.
Solih pledged on Twitter before the election that he would open investigations into the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, missing since 2014, and the fatal stabbing of blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.
He promised also to repeal anti-defamation legislation and “ensure press freedom.”
Foreign monitors said Yameen’s supporters failed to carry out any large-scale fraud thanks to intense international and local scrutiny from civil society groups.
“In the face of massive pressure, they had to abandon their plans,” Rohana Hettiarachchi of the Asian Network for Free Elections told AFP.


New Zealand envoy headed to Turkey to ‘confront’ Erdogan’s mosque shooting comments

Updated 11 min 15 sec ago
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New Zealand envoy headed to Turkey to ‘confront’ Erdogan’s mosque shooting comments

  • President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not
  • His comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings

SYDNEY: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday Foreign Minister Winston Peters will travel to Turkey to “confront” comments made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on the killing of at least 50 people at mosques in Christchurch.
Australian Brenton Tarrant, 28, a suspected white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after a lone gunman opened fire at the two mosques during Friday prayers.
Erdogan — who is seeking to drum up support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party in March 31 local elections — said Turkey would make the suspected attacker pay if New Zealand did not.
The comments came at a campaign rally that included video footage of the shootings which the alleged gunman had broadcast on Facebook.
Ardern said Peters would seek urgent clarification.
“Our deputy prime minister will be confronting those comments in Turkey,” Ardern told reporters in Christchurch. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face.”
Peters had earlier condemned the airing of footage of the shooting, which he said could endanger New Zealanders abroad.
Despite Peters’ intervention, an extract from Tarrant’s alleged manifesto was flashed up on a screen at Erdogan’s rally again on Tuesday, along with footage of the gunman entering one of the mosques and shooting as he approached the door.
Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he summoned Turkey’s ambassador for a meeting, during which he demanded Erdogan’s comments be removed from Turkey’s state broadcaster.
“I will wait to see what the response is from the Turkish government before taking further action, but I can tell you that all options are on the table,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Morrison said Australia’s ambassador to Turkey will on Wednesday meet with the members of Erdogan’s government.
Morrison said Canberra is also reconsidering its travel advice for Australians planning trips to Turkey.
Relations between Turkey, New Zealand and Australia have generally been good. Thousands of Australians and New Zealanders travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services.
Just over a century ago, thousands of soldiers from the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) struggled ashore on a narrow beach at Gallipoli during an ill-fated campaign that would claim more than 130,000 lives.
The area has become a site of pilgrimage for visitors who honor their nations’ fallen in graveyards halfway around the world on ANZAC Day every April 25.