Abdulla Yameen, president of Maldives. Picture: REUTERS
Abdulla Yameen, president of Maldives. Picture: REUTERS

Maldives strongman President Abdulla Yameen filed a legal challenge on Wednesday against his recent landslide election defeat despite international pressure for him to go quietly.

Yameen, whose main political rivals were either in jail or in exile for the September 23 vote but was unexpectedly beaten by a unity opposition candidate, had already conceded defeat.

But lawyers for Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives told reporters that they are alleging the poll was rigged by the independent election commission in a challenge filed with the supreme court.

"We reviewed the numerous complaints filed by President Yameen’s supporters before deciding to file this challenge," Yameen’s lead lawyer, Mohamed Saleem, said.

"So in light of that, President Yameen decided that the challenge must be filed for the rights of his supporters," he added.

It is unclear whether the supreme court will agree to consider the challenge.

The election, which has seen a tussle for influence between India and China, was won by Ibrahim Mohamed Solih with 58.4% of the vote. Solih was little known before the election but was backed, in a remarkable turn of events given the Maldives’ turbulent recent political history, by all opposition parties.

The US and EU had threatened sanctions if the vote was not free and fair and if Yameen, who has borrowed heavily from China for infrastructure projects, did not accept the result.

Yameen had reluctantly said he would leave office in November but he has been urging his supporters to challenge the results. Constitutionally, he can remain in office until November 17, when he has to hand over to Solih, barring any last minute court intervention.

Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party, said the challenge was "an attempt by Yameen to create unrest" and the supreme court was likely to throw it out. Ghafoor, like much of the opposition, is based in nearby Sri Lanka.