Maldives President Solih wins presidential primary, party says

FILE PHOTO: 76th Session of the General Assembly at UN Headquarters in New York

By Mohamed Junayd

MALE (Reuters) - Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih won the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party's (MDP) presidential primary election, the first time an incumbent has faced a primary challenge, according to preliminary results on Sunday.

But his challenger, former President Mohamed Nasheed has not accepted the results reported by the party. An official from his campaign said on Saturday the results were questionable, as voter tallies in some ballot stations did not match total eligible voters.

Nasheed's supporters and representatives have alleged voter fraud and vote rigging in the contentious election in the archipelago off India and Sri Lanka.

Solih secured 61% of the vote with 24,566 ballots, beating Nasheed with 15,641, the party said. Both had made whirlwind campaign tours across the country over the past month.

More than 40,000 MDP members, or 71%, voted, the party said.

Solih supporters gathered in the capital Male to celebrate after local media projected his victory on Saturday. Meeting them at the main MDP rally centre, Solih called on the members to unite for the upcoming presidential election.

"Now our competitive nature should be put behind us. That is over. Now we have to unite to ensure MDP wins the presidential election," he said.

A few scuffles broke out during the voting in some islands, with police arresting three men for disrupting ballot activities. They were arrested for vandalising ballot boxes, a police spokesperson said.

Another contentious issue was the removal of several thousand members from MDP's registry, rendering them ineligible to vote in the primary. Nasheed's campaign has said the move affected mostly the ex-president's supporters.

MDP has countered that the removals reflected attempts to bring the party's membership registry in line with the official registry maintained by the Elections Commission. MDP said members who were removed had the opportunity to rejoin the party and were given time to do so.

(Reporting by Mohamed Junayd in Male; Writing by Uditha Jayasinghe; Editing by William Mallard)