The Maldives‘ top court has rejected a bid by outgoing President Abdulla Yameen to annul results of a presidential election held in September.
The Supreme Court threw out on Sunday Yameen’s complaint that the vote was rigged, and refused to order a police investigation into allegations of fraud, according to an opposition lawyer and local media reports.
Yameen, who presided over a five-year crackdown targeting political rivals, media and rights activists, lost the September 23 election by a margin of 16 percent to opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in an outcome hailed as a victory for democracy in the Indian Ocean archipelago.
The 59-year-old leader initially conceded defeat, but later filed a complaint at the Supreme Court, alleging elections officials used “disappearing ink”, ring-shaped pens, and fraudulent ballot papers to rig the vote in his opponent’s favour.
Hisaan Hussein, a lawyer for the opposition who was present at Sunday’s hearing, told reporters that judges ruled “there was no evidence to substantiate any of” the president’s claims, and found none of them “could alter the outcome of the election”.
Ahmed Shareef, chairman of the elections commission, hailed the unanimous ruling in a Twitter post and thanked “all who stood by the people’s decision”.
The national electoral body had earlier alleged that supporters of the president threatened its staff following his election loss. Four of the five members of the commission left the country over the threats, but have now returned.
Ibrahim Muaz Ali, spokesperson for Yameen, could not be reached for a comment immediately.
‘New and positive era’
Solih, the president-elect, said the Maldivian people “can finally enjoy clarity” regarding the election outcome after weeks of uncertainty.
In a statement, he condemned Yameen complaint as “frivolous from the start”, and urged the president to accept the people’s will and facilitate a smooth transition of power.
Mariya Ahmed Didi, spokesperson for the president-elect, said she was “pleased” by the court verdict.
“The case was based on conjecture and conspiracy theory. There’s zero evidence that the election was fixed,” she said in a post on Twitter.
The verdict prompted celebrations outside the Supreme Court, with hundreds of opposition supporters cheering and clapping, according to videos posted online. There were also chants for Yameen’s arrest.
Abdulla Khaleel, a ruling party legislator, said he respected the ruling in a Twitter post, adding: “We move further with the reality of the day”.
Ahmed Siddeeq, deputy home minister, said the ruling had brought “deep despair”, and urged Yameen’s supporters to remain to be brave.
The United States welcomed the court ruling, with Robert Hilton, a top diplomat assigned to the Maldives, saying he looked forward to working with Solih after his inauguration.
“It’s a new and positive era for the Maldives,” he said in a Twitter post.
Yameen’s court bid came despite announcements from a wide range of countries congratulating Solih on the result, including the US, India, and the UK, as well as from Yameen’s allies, China and Saudi Arabia, who financed his expansive infrastructure drive over the past five years.
In a televised speech on Wednesday, Yameen – who has vowed to stay on in office until the end of his term on November 17 – said he was preparing to step down and had “no regrets” about his actions as president.
“What I found most difficult, or what I was incapable of, was learning about the people,” he said in his “final address”.
Meanwhile, the opposition coalition has asked the police to bar Yameen from leaving the country citing complaints and an investigation into allegations of corruptionagainst him.
These include an anti-corruption watchdog investigation into allegations the president received $1m of cash embezzled from tourism revenues. Meanwhile, an anti-money laundering body has alleged Yameen received $1.5m in hard currency days before the September election.
Speaking outside the Supreme Court, Hassan Latheef, chair of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, reiterated a call on the police to bar the president from leaving the country.
“There are huge allegations against him, of theft and money-laundering. They must be investigated immediately. And it is important that Yameen be barred from leaving the country,” he said.
The president rejects all corruption allegations against him and officials from his party have dismissed claims he may flee the Maldives.