Maldives leader accepts defeat despite court challenge

COLOMBO: Outgoing Maldives President Abdulla Yameen told the nation Wednesday he accepted defeat in last month’s elections, even as the strongman ruler lobbies the Supreme Court to call a fresh poll.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen made no reference to his controversial legal bid to annul the results of the election he lost despite stifling his opponents.

“This is my final address to the nation before I leave,” said the 59-year-old whose term in office ends on Nov 17.

“During my tenure, the most difficult thing for me was my failure to learn about the people. I just couldn’t find out what shapes their wishes.”

He said that he hoped to “serve the people” after leaving office, without elaborating further.

Yameen had already conceded defeat, under pressure from abroad, after his opponent Ibrahim Mohamed Solih emerged the winner in the Sept 23 poll.

But last week he filed a petition against the results in the Supreme Court, defying threats of possible sanctions.

The court Tuesday refused to accept the testimony of three unnamed witnesses put forward by Yameen’s lawyers, suggesting the bench was moving closer to ruling against him.

Yameen successfully lobbied the same court in 2013 to nullify election results as he trailed an opposition candidate, which ultimately allowed him to narrowly win a run-off poll.

He has ruled with an iron-fist ever since, crushing dissent and jailing or exiling all his major opponents.

Yameen alleges the country’s elections commission used disappearing ink on ballot papers to unfairly favour the opposition.

His lawyers said the anonymous witnesses could show the vote was rigged.

The court’s rejection of the witnesses has all but cleared the final obstacle before Solih, a relatively unknown opposition figure, takes the oath of office on Nov 17.

Ahead of the court hearing in the capital Male, the United States had warned “appropriate measures” would be taken if the will of the Maldivian people was undermined.

Washington and its allies have been concerned by growing Chinese influence in the strategically positioned Indian Ocean archipelago, especially under Yameen’s authoritarian rule. — AFP

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