Maldives opposition leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih votes at a polling station in the capital Male on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih declared victory in the Maldives’ presidential election Sunday, agencies reported. His win follows a controversial campaign observers said was rigged in favor of President Abdulla Yameen.

Solih was backed by a united opposition intent on ousting strongman Yameen and emerged victorious despite struggling to gain public visibility  because local media faced draconian decrees and reporting restrictions.

“I call on Yameen to respect the will of the people and bring about a peaceful, smooth transfer of power,” Solih said on national TV shortly after official results showed he had 58% of the popular vote.

He also urged Yameen to immediately release dozens of political prisoners.

Yameen, who was widely expected to cling to power, had jailed or forced into exile most of his main rivals.

Before the polling stations opened, police raided the campaign headquarters of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and searched the building for several hours in an effort to stop what they called “illegal activities,” AFP reported. There were no arrests.

Mohamed Nasheed, the head of Solih’s MDP, said the vote would “bring the country back to the democratic path.”

Yameen would have no option but to concede defeat, said Nasheed, who was elected president of a newly democratic Maldives in 2008 but has been living in exile.

“He will not have people around him who will support him to fight on and stay,” he told AFP.

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