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Tropical Maldives heads to polls closely watched by India and China

MALE/COLOMBO – More than a quarter of a million people vote on Saturday for the next leader of the tropical Maldives in a closely contested election seen as a battle for influence in the high-end tourist destination between India and China.

President Ibrahim Solih, who is seeking a second five-year term in the Indian Ocean archipelago, has championed an “India-first” policy during his time in power. He appears to be slightly ahead in the polls.

The coalition backing his main rival, Mohamed Muizzu, has a record of being close to China and has launched an “India out” campaign, promising to remove a small Indian military presence of several surveillance aircraft and some 75 personnel.

Muizzu entered the fray after former President Abdulla Yameen was banned from contesting the election by the Supreme Court in August following a conviction for corruption and money laundering.

A poll of 384 people published last month by the Baani Center think tank found that 21% of respondents favoured Solih compared with 14% supporting Muizzu.

“August’s poll reveals a majority of voters, 53%, remain undecided just three weeks before the first round vote on 9 September. This month’s poll has seen the most ‘undecideds’ since Baani began its monthly poll in April,” the organisation said in a statement.

If no candidate manages to secure 50% plus one vote, there will be a second round vote on Sept. 30 to decide the winner. REUTERS

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