(AJ) The Maldives appears headed for a run-off vote, after the opposition candidate took a surprise lead over President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, but fell short of an outright majority in a hotly contested presidential election.

The vote on Saturday is being closely watched by India and China, both of whom are vying for influence in the Indian Ocean tourist destination.

With nearly all ballots counted, preliminary results showed the mayor of the capital, Male, Mohamed Muizzu winning 46 percent of the vote, while Solih had 39 percent.

Muizz, 45, contested the vote promising to limit India’s presence in the Maldives, including by expelling a small group of Indian military personnel stationed in the archipelago. His Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)-led coalition had sought close ties with China while in power from 2013-2018, signing the Maldives onto its Belt and Road Initiative and obtaining millions of dollars in loans to fund key infrastructure projects.

Solih, 61, who won the last election in 2018 in a landslide amid widespread public outrage over corruption and rights abuses under PPM, returned the Maldives firmly to India’s orbit. He championed an “India-first” policy and secured similar amounts of funding from New Delhi to scale up infrastructure, including building housing and bridges in the Male region.

Polls in the lead up to Saturday’s vote had consistently shown Solih slightly ahead of Muizzu, but a challenge from a third candidate, a lower than expected voter turnout and disenchantment with the president’s failure to tackle graft appears to have hurt him.

The run-off between Muizzu and Solih is expected on September 30.

Six other candidates also contested Saturday’s poll. ( aljazeera.com)

Opposition PNC’s candidate Dr. Mohamed Muizzu continues to lead the polls as voting continues. Remaining candidates follow behind him as below; 

MDP’s candidate President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih in 2nd 

The Democrats’ candidate Ilyas Labeeb in 3rd 

Independent candidate Umar Naseer in 4th 

Jumhoory Party’s candidate Qasim Ibrahim in 5th 

Independent candidate Faris Maumoon in 6th 

Maldives National Party’s candidate Mohamed Nazim in 7th 

Independent candidate Hassan Zameel in 8th 

Via (sun.mv)