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
0

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.


Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

Updated 19 min 17 sec ago
0

Philippines’ Duterte in war of words over Canada garbage row

  • The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste
  • Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada

PORAC, Philippines: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday demanded Canada take back tons of trash it had illegally shipped to Manila or risk “war,” in the latest incident to strain bilateral ties.
The Philippines has urged Canada to take back scores of garbage containers shipped to the country in 2013 and 2014, alleging they contain toxic waste.
But Ottawa has said it had no authority to compel a private shipper to return the shipment to Canada.
Speaking to officials during a visit north of Manila, an area ravaged by an earthquake on Monday, Duterte said he did not care if his stance on the issue turned the two countries into enemies.
“I want a boat prepared. I’ll give a warning to Canada maybe next week that they better pull that thing out, or I will set sail for Canada and dump their garbage back there,” he said.
“Let’s fight Canada. I will declare war against them,” added the president, who frequently uses coarse language and hyperbole in public speeches about opponents.
The garbage is among several festering issues that have soured ties between the two governments.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been among the most vocal critics of the domestic drug war waged by Duterte, who was elected in 2016.
Philippine police say they have killed nearly 5,000 alleged drug users and pushers who fought against arrest in the crackdown, while rights groups say the true toll is at least triple that and may amount to crimes against humanity.
Last year Duterte angrily canceled the Philippine military’s $235 million contract to buy 16 military helicopters from a Canada-based manufacturer after the Trudeau government put the deal under review because of the president’s human rights record.