People first? The reign of a strongman leader in the Maldives ends at the ballot box as he tries to rig an election but loses anyway.


We begin this report about an election upset in the Maldives with the gratuitous use of the “L” word.

Unrivalled luxury, stunning white-sand beaches and an amazing underwater world make Maldives an obvious choice for a true holiday of a lifetime.

One million annual tourists visit the islands, which have a population of a little more than 420,000.

The Maldives is a republic lies south-west of the Indian sub-continent. It is made up of a chain of nearly 1,200 islands, most of them uninhabited.

None of the coral islands stand more than 1.8 metres (six feet) above sea level, making the country vulnerable to any rise in sea levels associated with global warming.

The economy revolves around tourism, and scores of islands have been developed for the top end of the tourist market.

Its political history has been unsettled since the electoral defeat of long-serving President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2008.

Back to that election.

President in paradise: An election upset in the Maldives (The Economist)

Abdulla Yameen, the strongman president, lost to a diminished opposition

THE last time Abdulla Yameen looked on the verge of losing power, in February, he declared a state of emergency and locked up two Supreme Court justices, members of parliament and even his own half-brother. His preparations for the presidential election on September 23rd appeared just as thorough. The most prominent leaders of the opposition remained in jail or in exile. The government had showered voters with pre-election goodies, such as waiving rent fines and trimming prison sentences. The police went as far as to raid the opposition alliance’s headquarters the day before the vote.

What could possibly go wrong for Yameen?

And yet, when the results came in, to general astonishment, Mr Yameen was declared to have lost, with only 42% of the vote. The winner was the unassuming but unjailed Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the leader of the diminished opposition in parliament. Mr Yameen, who had appeared determined to cling to power just six months before, conceded without protest.

Solih eloquently placed his victory into context.

“For many of us this has been a difficult journey, a journey that has led to prison cells or exile. “It’s been a journey that has ended at the ballot box.”

It seems that luxury projects and accompanying corruption scandals were a hallmark of the defeated Yameen.

Many of Mr Yameen’s big schemes will doubtless receive the scrutiny parliament was unable to give them previously. Some of his strongman policies, such as the re-introduction of the death penalty and the re-criminalisation of defamation, may be rolled back. And the corruption scandals and unexplained murders of critics that marred his rule are likely to be investigated more thoroughly.

When power-hungry candidates lose, it lifts one’s spirits.