Voters headed to the polls on Saturday for a highly anticipated presidential election runoff, following a fervent electoral battle that saw a record eight candidate face off in the first round. 

A total of 282,804 eligible voters, including 144,410 female and 138,394 male voters, are expected to exercise their democratic rights in a contest that has tightened considerably in its runoff.

Dr Mohamed Muizzu, the presidential candidate for the opposition People’s National Congress (PNC), is facing off against incumbent President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). Muizzu led the first round of voting earlier this month with 46.06% of the vote, while President Solih secured 39.05%, setting the stage for today’s decisive showdown.

Speaking at a joint press conference held last night, Ismail Habeeb, the Vice Chairperson of the Elections Commission (EC), emphasised the importance of uninfluenced voting. “Every individual must choose who they will vote for, at their will, without bowing down to any influence,” Habeeb said. He also noted that arrangements at all polling stations have been meticulously designed to prevent undue influence on voters.

Fuad Thaufeeq, Chairperson of the EC, added a plea for peaceful conduct, saying, “We assure you there is no influence in the arrangements we have made. We also request full cooperation from the public to carry this out peacefully.”

In anticipation of today’s vote, the Maldives Police Service has raised its alert level to the highest degree. Under Operation Blue Wave, officers have been deployed across the islands and will remain on high alert until the results are announced. The police have requested the public to cooperate, follow traffic rules, and report any suspicious activities.

To facilitate the expatriate vote, the EC has set up ballot boxes in five countries: Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, Trivandrum in India, Colombo in Sri Lanka, Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, and London in the United Kingdom.

The polling stations in the Maldives will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. local time. Meanwhile, for international polling stations, voting times vary. In Abu Dhabi, voting will occur from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., in Trivandrum, Colombo, and London from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and in Kuala Lumpur from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Compared to the first round, which saw 282,395 eligible voters, today’s runoff has an additional 409 individuals on the voting register. To accommodate this increase, the EC has printed 285,631 ballot papers and increased the number of ballot boxes to 586, compared to 574 in the first round.

Both leading candidates have been active in their outreach efforts, courting supporters and political allies. While coalitions were suggested in the first round, notable parties and independent candidates have so far opted to not align with either Muizzu or Solih.