Mohamed Nasheed, 51, made a dramatic return to the top of the national parliament, with his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headed for a two-thirds majority in the 87-member assembly.
Nasheed promised to use his party’s mandate to usher in a new era of stability and democracy in the Indian Ocean archipelago as it emerges from years of strongman rule, political crises and corruption scandals miring the government and judiciary.
“Our foremost duty is to bring peace to the government”, Nasheed told supporters in the capital Male on Sunday.
The comprehensive victory was another rebuke for Nasheed’s arch-rival and autocratic former president Abdulla Yameen, who was dumped in a shock election defeat in September under a cloud of corruption and embezzlement allegations.
Yameen did not run, but his party — the Progressive Party of Maldives — ended with a poor showing and is projected to only secure four seats in the People’s Majlis, or parliament.
Nasheed was barred from running in the election but his former deputy, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, emerged triumphant over Yameen.
The former leader declared the days of “Rolex watches and Kohinoor are over”, referring to high-profile scandals in the Maldives where MPs have allegedly been bought with luxury gifts.
“The parliament you have elected today possesses integrity,” said Nasheed, who won a seat in the People’s Majlis, or parliament.
“You desired to reform the general well being of the nation… Hopefully we will succeed in fulfilling your wishes.”
Nasheed also vowed to transform the Maldives, a popular honeymoon destination home to 340,000 Sunni Muslims, into a parliamentary democracy.
An executive presidential system was adopted under political reforms in 2008, when the dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom stood down after 30 years in power.
Preliminary results from Saturday’s election showed the MDP winning nearly 60 out of the 87 seats. Some local media projected Nasheed’s party was on track to win up to 68 seats.
Another anti-Yameen party that won seven seats, and several independent candidates, are also expected to throw their support behind the MDP government, political sources said.
As the results trickled in Saturday, and Nasheed’s victory was clearly within grasp, the dogged political veteran declared the Maldives was heading for “a golden yellow dawn”. Yellow is the colour of his party.
– Challenges ahead –
Election officials estimated the final turnout to be just under 80 percent, down from 89 percent recorded at the September presidential election. The official results could take days.
President Solih, who has promised to investigate corruption allegations against Yameen, thanked voters for delivering “a huge majority” for the MDP.
“While we celebrate, we must also not forget the immense challenges that lie ahead of us,” he said in a statement.
Election commissioner Ahmed Shareef told reporters there had been no complaints of irregularities in the run up to the vote, during balloting or at the count.
The thumping MDP victory caps a remarkable comeback for Nasheed, who until November was a fugitive in exile.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years prison in 2015 but left the Maldives a year later, after being granted prison leave for medical treatment in the UK.
The charges were dropped by the Supreme Court after Solih toppled Yameen, with judges saying there was no basis for the charges.
International rights groups had decried the terrorism conviction, imposed while Yameen was in power, as politically motivated and unjustified.
The Maldives was on the verge of being slapped with Western-led sanctions before Solih won the presidential election on a pledge to end corruption in the country, best known for its luxury tourism.
Nasheed has also opposed heavy borrowing from China under Yameen’s administration, accusing the former strongman of mortgaging the island paradise to Beijing for infrastructure projects.