The run-off result turned on its head the trend in the first round of voting held on November 9, at which Nasheed had reached close to outright majority with 46.93 per cent of the vote. Yameen's Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had secured 29.73 per cent.
"Although we have not announced the results yet, there are just two ballot boxes left to be counted, and the result is obvious. Yameen leads Nasheed by around 6,000 votes. One of the ballot boxes remaining is from London which has only around 200 votes, and the other is from Maafannu in Male," Ali Mohammed Manik, commissioner of the Maldivian Elections Commission, told The Sunday Express around 9.30 pm local time (10 pm IST).
Later in the evening, Nasheed told The Sunday Express, "It is too early to analyse the factors behind our defeat in the elections. But what is very clear is that we have lost by a very, very small margin. That is an indication of the outlook of this country. I think on the one hand you have half the country which wants to progress along the lines that we see, and there is another half of the country that wants to remain as PPM sees the country. "In my view, democracy is a process and it is going to take time before we are able to proceed as a normal democratic country. Also in my view, it is our responsibility as an opposition party to make sure that democracy survives."
On what lay ahead for him and his party, Nasheed said, "We have half the country behind us, and therefore I don't see much challenges for us to face the next local council elections and the parliamentary elections. One thing that we should not contemplate would be to overthrow the government by street action or by direct action. We must adhere to democratic principles and the ballot."
Yameen is a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former president who ruled the Maldives with an iron hand for three decades until 2008, when Nasheed became the country's first democratically elected president. Yameen's supporters hailed the victory as a win for Islam in the Maldives. Scores of them gathered outside the PPM campaign office at Nasandhura Palace hotel on Male's waterfront, cheering as the news of Yameen's
impending win came in. Gasim Ibrahim of the Jumhoree Party, which had the third largest share of the vote (23.34 per cent) in the first round, had pledged his support to the PPM for Saturday's run-off, possibly ensuring Nasheed's defeat.
The Adhaalath Party too had sided with Yameen. Nasheed had met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, External Affairs Minister
Salman Khurshid, National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh during a visit to India in August. Support from New Delhi had enabled him to contest the presidential election. A victory for Nasheed might have led to the reversal of the Maldivian government's decision to scrap the $ 500 million contract that he, as president, had signed with GMR for the development and upgradation of Male's international airport.
Earlier on Saturday, Yameen had complained that the ballot papers for the vote lacked proper safety features. The Elections Commission received complaints from people claiming they had been offered money to hand over their identity cards.
After casting his vote in the morning, Yameen told reporters that he would accept the result of the election if it was fair. "The PPM is backed by a majority of Maldivians, and has the support of other parties like the Jumhoree Party and the Adhaalath Party. We expect to get 55-60 per cent of the votes," he said.
Nasheed, who cast his vote soon afterward, did not make a comment. The Elections Commission rejected Yameen's allegation that the ballots were open to manipulation. "A candidate has complained that there is no safety feature in the ballot papers. However, this is not true. We have used good quality paper and the highest quality of printing. There is a safety feature, which was not disclosed for security reasons. All heads of ballot
centres were informed at 3.30 pm what the safety feature was, and were instructed to look for it before counting," Elections Commission chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek told The Sunday Express.
Former Chief Election Commissioner of India, B B Tandon, who is part of a four-member delegation of Indian observers, said, "Judging by international norms, it was a free, fair and credible election. The earlier two phases of the elections were equally good, and credit must go the Elections Commission. Most of the polling officers at the centres were women, who were extremely competent."