Maldives presidential run-off pits pro-India, pro-China figures

By Mohamed Junayd

MALE (Reuters) – Voters lined up at hundreds of polling stations in the Maldives on Saturday in a run-off election for president of the Indian Ocean archipelago that pits the incumbent India-leaning leader against a strong pro-China contender.

Opposition candidate Mohamed Muizzu led President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in the first round three weeks ago by 6 percentage points. A poll last week by the local Baani Center think tank showed the incumbent ahead with 30% and Muizzu at 24% but with 36% of voters undecided.

Thousands turned out early at over 586 polling stations across 187 islands known for their sun-kissed beaches and resorts. Maldivians were also voting at polling stations in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Britain and Abu Dhabi.

“Everything is going on as scheduled. There are no issues yet,” Fuwad Thowfeek, the president of the Elections Commission, told Reuters.

Solih, seeking a second five-year term, has championed an “India first” policy. The coalition backing Muizzu has launched an “India out” campaign, promising to remove a small Indian military presence of several surveillance aircraft and some 75 personnel.

Muizzu entered the fray with support from pro-China former President Abdulla Yameen, who was banned from contesting the election by the Supreme Court in August following a conviction for corruption and money laundering.

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