Yameen takes power in Maldives after vote turmoil

Newly elected Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is surrounded by supporters at his party's headquarters on election day at Nasandura Palace Hotel in Male, Nov 16, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Newly elected Maldives President Abdulla Yameen is surrounded by supporters at his party's headquarters on election day at Nasandura Palace Hotel in Male, Nov 16, 2013. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MALE, Maldives (AFP) - Abdulla Yameen took power in the Maldives on Sunday after an election victory, ending nearly two years of political turmoil that threatened to turn the honeymoon islands into an international pariah.

Yameen, the half-brother of the islands' long-time strongman ruler, was due to be sworn in at a presidential inauguration ceremony at around 1pm (4pm Singapore time).

In his first remarks after being declared the winner of a run-off contest early Sunday, Yameen said the country desperately needed stability and hoped his vanquished opponent, opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed, would cooperate.

"The country needs stability," Yameen, 54, told reporters in Male. "I hope we will receive the necessary cooperation from Nasheed through parliament." "Instead of confronting political leaders, we will confront the big challenges facing our country," he said.

Nasheed conceded defeat after a bitterly fought battle and said he was pleased that the country finally had a democratically elected leader.

"The MDP (Maldives Democratic Party) has always asked for a government elected by the people," Nasheed told reporters.

"Today is a happy day for the Maldives - we now have an elected government." The pro-Nasheed Minivan News noted that both men had sounded a conciliatory note as the results were announced.

"Yameen's election brings to an end a chapter of controversy and uncertainty over the government's democratic legitimacy," Minivan News said.

Nasheed has claimed he was toppled in a February 2012 coup triggered by a police mutiny and months of public protests orchestrated by Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed has also accused Yameen's half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the islands with an iron fist for 30 years, of being behind his downfall.

However, his conciliatory tone after the election will be a relief to the country's lifeblood tourist industry which had feared an already lengthy political crisis could further damage the image of a peaceful paradise.

After an annulled election result and two cancelled polls, foreign diplomats had increasingly come to view the delays as politically inspired.

Western diplomats had threatened international isolation unless the Maldives allowed its 350,000 Sunni Muslim population to freely elect a leader.

The European Union had warned of "appropriate measures" if Saturday's election did not go ahead as scheduled.

The Commonwealth on Thursday suspended the Maldives from its disciplinary panel, a first step towards expulsion from the 53-member organisation for failing to uphold its shared democratic values.

Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner and climate change activist, saw his rivals unite to keep him out of power after his first round victory on November 9.

He became the first democratically-elected president in 2008 when he defeated Gayoom in a run-off.

Nasheed, who had been jailed many times by Gayoom, won a first vote on September 7 with 45 percent. But the result was annulled by the Supreme Court which upheld a complaint about voter list irregularities.

After another attempt to hold the poll was blocked, a re-run of the first round took place on November 9 which Nasheed won by a larger margin - nearly 47 percent - but still not enough for an outright victory.

A run-off election announced for the day after by the independent Elections Commission was again cancelled by the Supreme Court, which is dominated by judges appointed during Gayoom's three-decade rule.

Nearly one million holidaymakers visited the Maldives last year, drawn to the Indian Ocean archipelago's secluded beaches on private islands where luxury cabins can cost several thousand dollars a night.