Maldives gears up for 'referendum' more than an election

The Maldives public will be turning up at various ballot stations starting on Sunday morning to decide who they will elect to lead the nation for the next five years.

Unlike the previous presidential elections; there are only two contesting for top-office. Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives' (PPM) backed sitting president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and the multi-party coalition backed veteran lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

Tensions are rife in the country as the hour of voting draws closer; with less than 24 hours remaining.

Both candidates and their respective running-mates have made successful campaign trips up and down the island nation; making fresh pledges if either takes office after the September 23 elections.

How important is the election in 2018?

As any previous presidential election, the 2018's polls will decide who gets to sit in the presidential seat. This time around the elections come as a crucial turning-point for Maldives politics.

If the sitting president Abdulla Yameen wins the elections, chances of him once again surgically removing potential opponents ahead of the next election may become effective based on precedence. There have been strong suggestions by ruling party's prominent lawmakers to extend the presidential term if the party comes to power once again.

If the opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih wins the elections, chances of the now incarcerated political individuals including former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed and several others, walking away becomes imminent.

But this is not without questions of some of them facing re-trials in local courts.

What are the chances Abdulla Yameen will win?

After swearing in as the country's president, he has been constantly dogged with allegations of corruption and scandals.

The incumbent president is also facing a second corruption expose by Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that alleges he was involved in massive scheme to lease out islands and lagoons of Maldives without public tender.

On top of this Abdulla Yameen has received constant lambaste from opposition and several citizens for his authoritative and rather stubborn 'press' on the local Constitution and its cited rights on the public.

However, he has been successful in removing all key 'players' from the local political arena; including any possible or potential opponent who might have given him strong retaliation in the elections.

Perhaps his trump-card, which he managed to successfully play, comes in the form of the recent completion and official opening of Sinamale' Bridge which opened a new logistical gateway for commercial enterprises and an massively convenient public-transport route for the locals. The bridge is among the top pledges he made during the 2013 campaign, while the ruling party strongly credits Yameen as the leader who realized the dream.

With almost a seemingly tight control on local judiciary as well as strong rumors of the Maldives electoral watchdog still under ruling party's influence some are regretfully stating Yameen might emerge victorios; in light of a possible vote-rigging.

Still that does not mean it he will face a major loss. His strong persona and apparent delivery on promises as well as notable feats in health sector include among several reasons for many to consider placing a tick beside his name in the elections.

What are the chances Ibrahim Mohamed Solih will win?

Almost without a controversy, the veteran lawmaker has by far been smudged about his questionable academic credentials; which the ruling party is keen on making continued emphasis on.

He is also criticized by the ruling party for lacking adequate experience in governance and leadership while accusing him to be a puppet of now self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Many speculate that the opposition presidential candidate may also face strong in-fighting between the leaders of the coalition.

However, based on campaign efforts and trips to various islands to Maldives, it can be suggested that Solih has been successful in mobilizing support to all inhabited islands. He also has the backing of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as well as Jumhooree Party founder Gasim Ibrahim; who still enjoy strong support from distributed constituencies.

Solih is also mired in criticism from ruling party for the possibility of his administration pushing towards a parliamentary system in Maldives. The parliamentary system of governance, despite the extensive details ever given about it in a public platform in the country, is moreover shunned by several politicians and a majority of the island nation's public.

Looking at the approval Solih garnered from constituencies where he has promised basic necessities fulfilled on immediate basis once he swears into top office, as well as from students who have been promised of government funded scholarship programs could mean he may have a strong contending power in the elections.

Maldives will decide on Sunday

With all said and done, it is only a matter of a few hours before the locals head towards ballot stations to cast their votes.

As of now both sides can strongly state their candidates will emerge victorious given the close numbers both have garnered with regards to online polls on various media sites and social media platforms.

The outcome can and only will be decided fully by the Maldivian public who are expected to make their decisions on Sunday; in the presidential polls.