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Maldives risks sanctions as toppled Yameen fights back 

Colombo, October 14

Maldives judges on Sunday heard a petition by strongman President Abdulla Yameen to have his recent election defeat annulled, potentially triggering US sanctions and plunging the archipelago into fresh turmoil.

Yameen lost heavily in the September 23 election to a little-known unity opposition candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, despite his main rivals being in jail or in exile and the media in his pocket.

Under pressure from the US, Europe and India, which is seeking to counter growing Chinese influence in the strategically positioned 1,200-island honeymoon paradise, Yameen quickly conceded defeat and said he would leave office on November 17.

But even as Western countries breathed a sigh of relief, prisoners were released and opposition figures began returning from exile, Yameen last week filed a request for the Supreme Court to annul the result and call fresh elections.

A statement on Saturday by his Progressive Party (PPM) said the vote was the “most farcical election in living memory” with the organisation “abysmal”, vote-rigging “rampant” and many people unable to cast ballots. 

The US — which like the European Union threatened sanctions if the elections were not free and fair — on Saturday warned it would react if Yameen, 59, does not go quietly.

“The US is concerned by troubling actions by outgoing President Yameen that threaten to undermine the will of the Maldivian people,” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tweeted. He added that Washington “will consider appropriate measures against anyone who undermines a peaceful transfer of power in #Maldives.”

The situation is not dissimilar to 2013 when Yameen, estranged half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Maldives with an iron fist for 30 years until 2008, first became President.

Yameen’s rival at the time Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected President who is now in exile, beat him in the first round of elections but Yameen persuaded the Supreme Court to nullify the result.

A subsequent vote was then twice delayed, allowing Yameen time to forge alliances that helped him narrowly win a contested run-off. Dozens of people queued up outside the Supreme Court on Sunday to get inside several hours before the hearing began. It started with the court allowing all opposition parties to have their say.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Colombo-based spokesman for the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said the legal challenge was an attempt by Yameen to create turmoil.

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