Maldives leader's party declares sweeping election victory

MALE, Maldives (AP) — Maldives President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih's party declared a sweeping parliamentary election victory Sunday that could give him a free hand in efforts to restore political freedoms and tackle corruption.

Local media reports said Solih's Maldivian Democratic Party was leading in 60 of the 87 seats in parliament following Saturday's vote. Official results were expected late Sunday, but there was no announcement yet.

It could be the first time a single party wins a majority in parliament since the Indian Ocean archipelago nation became a multiparty democracy in 2008 after decades of autocratic rule.

Afshan Latheef, the campaign spokeswoman for Solih's party, told The Associated Press that it was a "resounding victory" that "undoubtedly reflected the people's desire for reform and implementation of policies outlined in the president and government's manifesto."

As his party began celebrating after the vote counting started Saturday night, Solih said the people should not forget "the immense challenges that lie ahead of us."

"The work to strengthen our democratic institutions, to deliver basic services for citizens, to our promise of bringing corruption, past and present, to book and ending impunity starts now," he said in a statement Sunday. "I look forward to working with all of you to realize our promises to the people."

Solih's party is seeking at least 44 seats for a majority to pass legislation needed to implement pledges from last year's presidential campaign. His coalition currently has 52 seats, but one partner with 22 seats is aligned with former strongman Yameen Abdul Gayoom.

Solih defeated Yameen last year, giving new hope to the young democracy, which has gone through a tumultuous transition that threatened to drag the Maldives back to its autocratic past. Yameen had curtailed freedom of speech and jailed his political rivals.

Solih was only a fallback choice as president for his party because charismatic former President Mohamed Nasheed was sentenced to prison under Yameen and was ineligible to run.

Solih promised reforms, an end to political influence over the courts, police and the bureaucracy, and the recovery of money lost through corruption.

Opposition politicians came together in a grand alliance to defeat Yameen, their common foe. But soon the coalition cracked and despite repeated efforts, Solih failed to secure parliamentary approval for promised commissions to inquire into corruption, the disappearance of a journalist and the killing of a blogger during Yameen's rule.