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

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.


Republican stalwart Rooney ‘thinking’ about impeachment

Updated 19 min 12 sec ago

Republican stalwart Rooney ‘thinking’ about impeachment

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump gave an atta-boy to Republican Rep. Francis Rooney last year on the congressman’s home turf in swing state Florida.
“I love it when he defends me,” the president said then. He might feel differently now.
The second-term Republican said publicly Friday what others in his party are not, namely that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney acknowledged a quid pro quo was at work when Trump held up US aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv’s investigation of Democrats and the 2016 elections. Mulvaney later claimed his comments had been misconstrued, but Rooney said he and other Republicans heard them clearly.
“He said there’s a quid pro quo,” Rooney said of Mulvaney during a telephone interview. “I just don’t think that the power and prestige of our country is supposed to be used for political things.”
Asked whether he thinks Trump’s conduct is impeachable, Rooney replied, “I’m still thinking about it.”
Anything short of a “no” on that question, even from only one of 197 Republicans in the House, is notable amid the drive by majority Democrats to impeach Trump. The president has made clear that he does more than notice what he considers acts of disloyalty; he is fond of making examples of Republicans by threatening to sink their re-election bids and following through in a few cases.
Friday night, Trump tweeted, “REPUBLICANS MUST STICK TOGETHER AND FIGHT!” That tweet was accompanied by a video targeting Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, who has been critical of Trump’s handling of Turkey’s assault on Syrian Kurds.
When Rep. Justin Amash of politically critical Michigan became the first House Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment earlier this year — and quit the party — the backlash from Trump’s orbit was swift.
But that was before revelations about Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, which made his impeachment by the end of the year a real possibility. Since the release of a rough transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president, many current and former administration officials have testified before House impeachment investigators.
Then Mulvaney spoke on Thursday. Rooney said in a telephone interview that the chief of staff’s comments marked a turning point for him from giving the president “the benefit of the doubt.” And he said GOP colleagues are newly troubled.
“They were all going around saying what the president said — that there wasn’t a quid pro quo,” Rooney said. “There were a lot of Republicans looking at that headline yesterday. I think people were concerned about it.”
Rooney said he had not received any blowback from the White House for his comments, though about half of the calls he’s getting are from constituents who are critical, including “some pretty hostile” ones from ardent Trump supporters.
Only a year ago, at a presidential rally in Estero, Trump praised Rooney as “a man who’s so great to me on television. This guy is special. He was a great businessman. Now he’s a great congressman, Francis Rooney.”
He went on: “I love him when he defends me. He’s brutal. He gets the job done, right, Francis? Thank you, man.”
Rooney, 65, is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, a solid member of the Republican establishment. Among the wealthiest members of the House, he won his second term last year with 62 percent of the vote. His foreign policy bona fides come in part from his service as ambassador to the Holy See under President George W. Bush.
His official biography tells the story of his longtime connection to the GOP. In 1984, the family started Rooney Holdings Inc. One of the company’s subsidiaries counts among its projects the presidential libraries for both Bush and his father, George H. W. Bush, the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans football stadiums, the US Capitol Visitor’s Center, the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research and the international terminal at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta.
Rooney has at times been a Trump critic. He was one of 13 House Republicans to join a Democratic effort early this year to stop the president from declaring a national emergency to fund his border wall with Mexico.
On Friday, Rooney was no longer one of Trump’s defenders, on television or elsewhere.
“Whatever may have been gray and unclear before is certainly clear now,” he said on CNN.