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Maldives security forces vow to uphold presidential vote results

Male, Maldives - Security forces in the Maldives have promised to uphold results of a contentious presidential election amid opposition fears that defeated President Abdulla Yameen was seeking to extend his rule.

"The beloved people of the Maldives have made their decision known in an election, and the army will uphold that decision," Captain Ibrahim Azim said in a message to reporters on Wednesday.

The police also said they will "respect and uphold" the results of the vote.

The pledges came after the ruling party called on the national elections commission to wait until a Sunday deadline to publish final results of the September 23 vote, alleging "systematic irregularities".

Yameen, accused of jailing nearly all of his opponents, had conceded defeat shortly after provisional results released on Monday showed the opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, winning 58 percent of ballots cast.

The outcome was hailed as a victory for democracy in the Indian Ocean island nation.

The president said he accepted the people's decision and intended to stay on in office until the end of his term on November 17.

But just two days later, Ahmed Nihan, leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), told reporters in the Maldives' capital, Male, that there were "allegations of systematic and planned irregularities" in the vote.

"As a political party, we have a responsibility to check when we receive such reports," he said.

Party monitors claimed officials at polling stations did not check the authenticity of each and every ballot paper, Nihan said. The PPM has launched an investigation into the complaints and that was why it asked the elections commission to wait on publishing the final results, he said.
Contesting results

The opposition, which has pledged to investigate allegations of corruption and rights abuses against Yameen, denounced the move.

Ahmed Mahloof, an opposition politician, said he was very "worried".

"Yameen has not accepted his defeat and is now planning to annul the election through the courts," he said.

"The police, army, the Supreme Court and the High Court must not let that happen."

Transparency Maldives, an election monitoring group, said it was "concerned" by Nihan's statements.

Aiman Rasheed, advocacy and communications director for the group, said despite the government's crackdown on dissent ahead of the vote, "election day proceeded relatively smoothly and the problems noted were not significant enough to impact the outcome of the election".

Nihan, the ruling party legislator, said they were yet to file a complaint at court.

If they do, it would not be the first time election results have been contested in the Maldives.

In 2013, the Supreme Court annulled results of a first round of polling in which Yameen came second. The top court also cancelled and delayed the rescheduled polling several times, citing irregularities in the vote.

Yameen eventually won that election with a narrow margin of 6,000 votes.

Ahmed Shareef, president of the elections commission and a key ally of Yameen, confirmed the PPM sent a letter alleging "there were issues that can affect the outcome of the election".

"But we have not seen a concrete case about what they may be," he said.

"If there is no legal hurdle, such as a court order, we will announce the results on Sunday," he added.

In the immediate aftermath of the vote, the elections commission said the poll proceeded in a "calm and orderly manner" adding there were no complaints that could affect the result.

James Dauris, United Kingdom's ambassador to the Maldives, urged the elections commission to publish the final election results without delay to facilitate a smooth transfer of power.

As rumours swirled over the ruling party's move, many Maldivians took to social media to express concern, and urged the Yameen to ensure a smooth transfer of power immediately.

There were also calls for the president's arrest.

Isha Afeef reported from Male. Zaheena Rasheed reported and wrote from Colombo, Sri Lanka.
by Zaheena Rasheed & Isha Afeef
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