Ex-political prisoner Nasheed routed Asia's longest serving leader
The man who was jailed, tortured and became the international face of the Maldives’ reform movement was on Wednesday morning set to take on the presidency, as with just 16 ballot boxes left to count, Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) had 53.31 per cent of 170,772 counted votes.
The country wakes up to the prospect of its first change of government in 30 years, and the reality that Maldivian voters turned down President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in their first democratic election.
They opted instead for Anni, a charismatic opposition leader 30 years younger than the president many have described as a dictator. Pending final results, Anni will be sworn in as the Maldivian president on 11 November.
Supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took to the streets near Malé’s Artificial Beach, shouting that they had finally – in accordance with Anni’s campaign slogan – reached “Aneh Dhivehi Raajje” (The Other Maldives).
Opposition leaders said Anni and Gayoom were holding early-morning talks to discuss the handover.
At 4am Anni had 53.31 per cent to Gayoom’s 46.19 per cent, or 91,890 votes. 387 of the total 403 ballot boxes had been counted.
Across the country’s 200 inhabited islands, voters had turned out to cast their ballots in a peaceful runoff round that avoided the voter registration chaos seen in the first round on 8 October.
The earlier vote, in which six candidates contested, was almost called off due to the irregularities, but continued and saw Anni and Gayoom emerge as the two top contenders with 25 and 41 per cent respectively.
Anni secured the support of the third, fourth and sixth-placed candidates – Hassan Saeed, Gasim Ibrahim and Ibrahim Ismail – to form an opposition coalition that used a spectrum motif and the slogan “As The Nation Wishes”.
The government’s Dhivehi Raiyyithunge Party launched a series of accusations against Anni in the tense weeks between rounds, saying he spread Christianity, had been involved in 1988’s attempted coup, and wanted to legalise cannabis.
But after a slow start, the opposition alliance presented a consistent message of change, moderate politics and re-establishing human rights and the rule of law.
A final rally on 26 October concluded with ten thousand opposition supporters raising their hands in a prayer amid pouring rain.
A struggle for change had started with piecemeal dissident journalism in the 1990s, and gathered pace into a fully-fledged reform movement in the early 2000s.
It broke into the open after civil unrest sparked in 2004 when prisoner Evan Naseem was murdered by prison guards, and became a formal political party with the registration of the MDP in 2005.
The opposition splintered, with several factions forming parties, but came together again to back Anni ahead of the second round.
“I’ve never seen another leader,” said one election observer Wednesday morning. “I can’t believe it. This was difficult to even imagine.”