Maldives opposition candidate urges govt to free jailed leaders after historic election win

Maldives opposition alliance presidential candidate early Monday urged incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom for a smooth transfer of power and free jailed political leaders after his historic victory in Sunday's presidential elections.

Just a little over a quarter million people in the tropical island nation voted on Sunday in an election amid mounting international concerns for a lack of transparency and suppression of government critics.

Maldives has been embroiled in political turmoil in recent years as president Yameen jailed all of his political rivals as the government muzzled local media and heavily restricted fundamental constitutional rights and freedom of expression with a series of contentious laws.

In February the Supreme Court quashed the convictions of nine opposition figures, among them exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted from office in 2012.

But after President Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of two judges, the court reversed its decision soon after.

The election widely regarded more as a referendum than an election saw incumbent president Yameen seeking re-election go against the veteran lawmaker Solih.

Speaking to reporters early Monday, Solih thanked the four jailed leaders including former presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for their support in securing victory.

"I want to assure you that I will be a president of the people as promised," Solih who was flanked by his Jumhoory Party (JP) nominated running mate and fellow lawmaker Faisal Naseem.

Throughout Sunday, Solih maintained a healthy lead but pulled well clear as Yameen lost key electorates despite significant pledges of development in the next five years.

With only a handful of ballot boxes left to be counted, preliminary results show Solih leading with over 121,000 votes leaving Yameen in his wake who managed to secure just over 86,000 votes.

Neither the ruling party nor president Yameen is however yet to admit defeat with only the chief government lawmaker Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik hinting that the ruling party would accept the outcome of the elections.

What happens next?

The Elections Commission is expected to announce official preliminary results later Monday. But despite calls by Solih to free jailed leaders, their fate following the elections remain unclear. How Yameen would react or whether he would actually admit defeat remains to be seen.