Landslide win for pro-China leader's party in Maldives vote

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu casts his ballot in the country's parliamentary election on Sunday (Mohamed Afrah)
Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu casts his ballot in the country's parliamentary election on Sunday (Mohamed Afrah)

Maldives President Mohamed Muizzu's party won control of parliament in a Sunday election landslide, results showed, with voters backing his tilt towards China and away from regional powerhouse and traditional benefactor India.

Muizzu's People's National Congress (PNC) had secured more than two thirds in the 93-member parliament, according to provisional results from the Elections Commission of Maldives.

The PNC had secured 66 out of 86 declared, already more than enough for a super-majority. The formal ratification of the results is expected to take a week and the new assembly is to be in office from early May.

Only three women candidates out of a total of 41 were elected, the local Mihaaru newspaper said adding that the winners were from Muizzu's PNC.

The vote was seen as a crucial test for Muizzu's plan to press ahead with closer economic cooperation with China, including building thousands of apartments on controversially reclaimed land.

The PNC and its allies had only eight seats in the outgoing parliament, with the lack of a majority stymieing Muizzu after his presidential election victory in September.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) -- which had previously had a super-majority of its own -- was headed for a humiliating defeat with just a dozen seats.

Muizzu, 45, had been among the first to vote Sunday, casting his ballot at a school in the capital Male -- where he was previously mayor -- and urging Maldivians to turn out in high numbers.

"All citizens should come out and exercise their right to vote as soon as possible," he told reporters.

The Maldives, a low-lying nation of some 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered some 800 kilometres (500 miles) across the equator, is one of the countries most vulnerable to sea level rises caused by global warming.

Muizzu, a former construction minister, has promised he will beat back the waves through ambitious land reclamation and building islands higher, a policy which environmentalists argue could even exacerbate flooding risks.

The Maldives is known as a top luxury holiday destination thanks to its pristine white beaches and secluded resorts.

But in recent years it has also become a geopolitical hotspot in the Indian Ocean, where global east-west shipping lanes pass the archipelago.

Muizzu won last September's presidential poll as a proxy for pro-China ex-president Abdulla Yameen, freed last week after a court set aside his 11-year jail term for corruption.

- Indian troops leaving -

This month, as campaigning for the parliamentary elections was in full swing, Muizzu awarded high-profile infrastructure contracts to Chinese state-owned companies.

His administration is also in the process of sending home a garrison of 89 Indian troops who operate reconnaissance aircraft gifted by New Delhi to patrol the Maldives' vast maritime borders.

The outgoing parliament, dominated by the pro-India MDP of Muizzu's immediate predecessor Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, has sought to disrupt his efforts to realign Maldivian diplomacy.

Since Muizzu came to power, lawmakers blocked three of his nominees to the cabinet and refused some of his spending proposals.

"Geopolitics is very much in the background as parties campaign for votes in Sunday's election," a senior Muizzu aide told AFP ahead of the poll, asking not to be named.

"He came to power on a promise to send back Indian troops and he is working on it. The parliament has not been cooperating with him since he came to power."

Solih was also among those voting early and expressed confidence his party would emerge victorious. There was no immediate reaction from his party to their poor showing in Sunday's vote.

Election chief Fuad Thaufeeq said after polls closed that turnout had already reached 73 percent of the 284,663 electorate when half an hour of voting remained.

aj/mlm