Mohamed Muizzu casts his vote during the second round of a presidential election in Male on Saturday. Reuters
Muizzu was leading the count with 54% of the vote against 46% won by Solih, local media reported.
Thousands turned out early at 586 polling stations across the 187 islands known for their sun-kissed beaches and resorts. Maldivians also voted at polling stations in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Britain and Abu Dhabi.
An Elections Commission official said they were confident of declaring a provisional result later on Saturday or early on Sunday.
From L to R: Mohamed Muizze, brahim Solih and Faisal Naseem cast their ballots at polling stations in Male. AFP
The frontrunner's supporters were seen dancing in the streets as local broadcaster TVM and news website Dhauru called the election in his favour. "He has won, he has won," a crowd chanted outside the campaign office of Muizzu's party in the capital Male.
Solih, who was first elected president in 2018, was battling allegations by Muizzu that he had allowed India an unchecked presence in the country. Muizzu's party, the People’s National Congress, is viewed as heavily pro-China.
Solih, who was seeking a second five-year term, championed an "India first" policy during his time in power and focused on building relations with its powerful neighbour.
Officials prepare to count votes at a polling station in Male. AFP
The coalition backing Muizzu by contrast 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 with support from pro-China former President Abdulla Yameen, who was banned from contesting the election by the Supreme Court in August following a conviction for corruption and money laundering.
His and Muizzu's supporters gathered outside the main Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) office in Male celebrating the win along with chants of "free President Yameen" after the projected results were telecast.
A female voter casts her ballot at a polling station in Male. AFP
An engineer, Muizzu had served as the housing minister for seven years. He was mayor of Male, the capital, when he was chosen to run for president.
"These five years have been the most peaceful and prosperous five years we’ve ever seen. We have had political peace, opposition candidates are not jailed every day,” said Abdul Muhusin, who said he voted for Solih in the runoff on Saturday.
Another voter, Saeedh Hussein, said he chose Muizzu because "I want the Indian military to leave Maldives."
"I don’t believe the Maldivian military has any control. Only Muizzu can change these things and make the Indian military leave Maldives,” he said.
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