A supporter of Maldives’ opposition candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih displays a victory symbol on Saturday [Eranga Jayawardena/AP]
Maldives police seized the opposition’s campaign headquarters as thousands rallied on the streets of the capital on the eve of a presidential election billed as a test for democracy on the Muslim island nation.
Special operations police blocked the entrance to the opposition offices in Male on Saturday evening, citing an investigation into “bribery and influencing votes”, said Hisaan Hussein, an opposition lawyer.
“They are not allowing anyone into the building. This is all a desperate attempt to disrupt tomorrow’s vote,” she told Al Jazeera from the scene.
At the time of the raid, the office was closed as opposition officials were attending a march to mark the final day of campaigning, Hisaan said.
“They do not have a court order, but seem confident of obtaining one.”
The police, in a post on Twitter, said its officers were active at the site “to bring a stop to unlawful activities” there.
They were not responding to calls for comment.
Sunday’s election is taking place amid a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent and mounting fears of vote rigging. President Abdulla Yameen is seeking re-election after a first five-year term marred by allegations of corruption and human rights abuses.
Polling stations open at 8am local time (03:00 GMT).
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Yameen is contesting against Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, fielded by an opposition coalition of four parties, whose leaders are either in jail or exile.
“The clock is ticking. Our hearts are pounding,” Yameen told cheering crowds gathered at the base of the country’s first bridge, built by Chinese loans and opened just last month.
The choice in Sunday’s poll was between Islam and “infidelity”, said the president, who is running on a platform of economic development and defence of faith and sovereignty.
The opposition, backed by “Christian priests”, were looking to undermine the Maldives’ Sunni Muslim faith, he alleged, and warned: “Don’t try to play with our nation, and our youth. Don’t try to change our thought. Don’t try to pollute our blood.”
Observers say they do not expect the poll to be free or fair.
‘Subdued into silence’
The Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL), in a statement on Saturday, said the “political environment in the country is heavily tipped in favour of the ruling party, as critical media are being subdued into silence, and opposition figures sentenced to jail terms or forced into exile for politically motivated charges”.
The election commission, chaired by a key ally of Yameen, has enforced new vote-counting rules that threaten “the sanctity of the ballot”, the group said.
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ANFREL observers and dozens of foreign journalists who sought to monitor the election were denied visas to enter the country.
Ahmed Shareef, president of the election commission, assured reporters in Male the vote will be fair as the national electoral body has “facilitated all requests by the opposition candidate”.
On the other side of the island, Solih said Sunday’s vote was “the last chance” to restore democracy in the Maldives.
“A majority of the Maldivian people have been deprived of basic services,” he said, addressing a crowd of thousands waving yellow flags and green balloons.
Yameen “has made it an offence to speak the truth, and jailed scores unjustly”.
He pledged to restore civil and political rights and release jailed dissidents, which include Yameen’s half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was jailed in February after he came out against the president.