Maldives opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who fought a bitter election campaign against President Abdulla Yameen, said that he had won Sunday's (Sept 23) presidential vote with a 16 per cent margin after 92 per cent of votes had been counted.
In his victory speech, Soli described the win as a "moment of happiness, hope and history".
"But it's been a journey that has ended in the ballot box, because the people willed it".
"The message is loud and clear".
The United States also congratulated the people of Maldives, who peacefully raised their democratic voices to determine the future of their country. He said, "I would like to call upon Yameen and ask him to respect the will of the people and to immediately begin the smooth transition of power as per the Constitution and the law".
Yameen did not concede, and his campaign couldn't be reached for comment. The U.S. had threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections were not free and fair.
Mr Yameen, who was widely tipped to retain power, had jailed or forced into exile nearly all of his main rivals. He became the Maldivian Democratic Party's presidential candidate after its other top figures were jailed or exiled by Yameen's government.
But after President Yameen declared a state of emergency and ordered the arrest of two judges, the court reversed its decision.
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The poll is being closely watched by regional rivals India and China, who are jostling to influence Indian Ocean nations.
The Maldives, the isolated scattering of islands caught in a geopolitical struggle between China, India and the West, were thrust into more uncertainty Sunday when voters appeared to have ousted the country's autocratic president.
The Asian Network for Free Elections, a foreign monitoring group that was denied access to the Maldives, said the campaign had been heavily tilted in favour of 59-year-old Yameen.
On Saturday night, the police raided the opposition's office in the capital, Malé, citing evidence of vote-buying.
Opposition supporters in the Maldives and in neighboring Sri Lanka, where former President Mohamed Nasheed lives in exile, decried the raid as a naked attempt to rig the vote in favor of Yameen.
In an election marred by controversy, Mr. Yameen - the half-brother of ex-President Abdulla Gayoom who ruled the country for almost 30 years - became the President.
Mohamed Shainee, the minister of fisheries in Yameen's government, said on Twitter it was "the beginning of a new chapter" for the country, asking voters to "forgive our wrongdoings". "Despite the repressive environment, the people have spoken their minds", said Ahmed Tholal, a former member of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and a project coordinator at the nonprofit watchdog Transparency Maldives.
The polls close at 4 p.m. and election officials say results are expected after 10 p.m. Some Maldivian voters in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo, said they waited nine hours because of verification delays to cast their ballots.