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Polling ends peacefully in Maldives
Saturday September 7, 2013 8:18 PM, IANS

Polling to elect the next president of Maldives concluded peacefully Saturday, 18 months after the country's first elected president Mohamed Nasheed was ousted.

Thousands of people flocked to 470 polling stations across 200 islands in the Maldives Saturday to cast their ballots.

Over 240,000 Maldivians were eligible to vote in the election in which four candidates, including incumbent President Mohamed Waheed and the ousted Nasheed, are in the fray, Xinhua reported.

The other two are tycoon Gasim Ibrahim and MP Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The election has been endorsed by over 400 monitors as peaceful but concerns have been raised that about two percent of the vote could have had its secrecy compromised, Xinhua quoted an official as saying here.

Transparency Maldives, who fielded the largest number of monitors, told media that the administration of the polls has been efficient and praised the elections commission and its stakeholders.

"The opening procedure went relatively well with 99.5 percent of polling stations opened before 8.30 a.m. and 83 percent of all polling stations were opened within the first ten minutes. All ballot boxes were empty and verified as empty before the start of the polls," Transparency Maldives director Uz. Hussain Siraj told media.

"We also note that the police were present at 95 percent of the observed polling stations at the time of opening and the observers concluded that the polling stations were set up to safeguard the secrecy of the vote in the majority of 98.2 percent of the cases," he said.

gHowever, this was less clear in about two percent of the cases observed for which we are closely observing and monitoring," he added raising concerns about credibility.

All four candidates were in an upbeat mood Saturday over the large turnout where young and old alike stood for hours in snaking lines all across the capital Male.

Waheed decided to be the early bird and cast his vote just 15 minutes after the polling stations opened. He said he was "very confident" of winning the elections.

Gasim Ibrahim took a leisurely walk to the polling booth to cast his vote around the same time as Waheed.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Yameen headed to the poll booth next to the National University of Male.

Yameen said he believed the election was a turning point in the history of the Maldives.

However, he admitted that doubts regarding its credibility still remained and that political parties could decide to contest the result to be announced early Sunday.

"This (the election) is absolutely crucial. This is the watershed election. Things have gone so wrong for the last four to five years and it is absolutely imperative that we change for the better this time," Yameen told Xinhua.

Asked whether he was confident of the elections being free and fair, he said there were still loopholes that the regulators had failed to close ahead of time.

"It all depends on how problems are going to be resolved here. If it (result) needs to be contested, if there are substantive issues, I suppose every party would contest," he said.

Yameen had the public endorsement of former president Gayoom and many of his family members active in the current government.

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