MALé, MALDIVES: The Maldives on Saturday held its first parliamentary election since former strongman leader Abdulla Yameen was forced to stand down, with his arch-rival tipped to make a big political comeback.
President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih appealed for a high turnout as unusually hot weather saw slow voting early in the day. Voting was extended for two hours to encourage the public to come out.
Election officials estimated the final turnout to be between 70 and 80 per cent, down from the 89 per cent recorded at the September presidential election which unexpectedly toppled Yameen.
"I urge Maldivians to go out and vote," Solih said after voting in the capital, Male, where his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) fielded former president Mohamed Nasheed as a candidate.
Maldives government acknowledges opposition victory
Nasheed, 51, is the highest profile contender for the 87-member People's Majlis, or parliament that is elected for five years. Over 385 candidates are in the fray. The first results are expected Sunday.
Nasheed returned from an enforced exile abroad after his deputy Solih's unexpected victory in September.
Solih said he expected Saturday's poll to return a strong legislature led by his MDP. Nasheed is expected to wield considerable influence in any new government.
He cast his ballot in Male, but made no comment.
The opposition coalition that helped Solih win has since come apart, with constituent parties going their separate ways for Saturday's election.
Solih has however made it clear that he wants an MDP-led government.
"I want to stress that I would like the next parliament to be made up of members who are familiar with our policies, and fully support it," Solih told a campaign rally on Thursday night.
Maldives election expected to cement president's grip on power
Nasheed was jailed for 13 years on a controversial terrorism charge when Yameen was in power. However, the conviction was overturned last year after the presidency changed.
Election commissioner Ahmed Shareef told reporters there had been no complaints of irregularities in the runup to the vote.
Voting took place for overseas Maldivians in neighbouring India and Sri Lanka, as well as London.
Former president Yameen was not a candidate, but his Progressive Party of Maldives was seen as the main challenger to the MDP.
Last week, the High Court ordered authorities to lift a freeze on Yameen's bank accounts holding about $6.5 million. But it said a money laundering case against him would proceed.
Yameen received the payments just before he lost his re-election bid in September. Since then, all dissidents have returned to the Indian Ocean archipelago and most have had their convictions quashed.
The Maldives was on the verge of being slapped with Western-led sanctions before Solih won the presidential election on a pledge to end corruption in the country best known for its luxury tourism.