Voting officially began in the Maldives amid fear of rigging and violence by the country's opposition parties and international monitor groups to sway the results in favour of incumbent President Abdulla Yameen.
Polling began at 8 am (local time) with around 263,000 of eligible Maldivian voters standing in long queues to exercise their franchise in the high-stakes elections, which will be keenly watched by countries such as India, the United States and China. Voting is slated to end at 4 pm (local time), avas.mv reported.
Yameen of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) is eyeing a second five-year term, while senior lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who has been fielded by a group of opposition parties led by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), will be looking to unseat the 59-year-old strongman, in an effort to restore democracy in the island nation. Unlike previous elections, only two candidates will be running for the presidential post.
Apart from the Maldives, voters are entitled to exercise their franchise in India, Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and Malaysia. 472 ballot boxes have been placed across the country and in the four countries. Yameen was seen casting his vote in a polling booth as the voting began.
The island nation has been engulfed in a political upheaval in the past few months with Yameen imposing a state of emergency to annul a Maldivian Supreme Court ruling that quashed the convictions of nine opposition leaders, including Mohamed Nasheed, Maldives' first democratically-elected president.
Yameen has also put his half-brother and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and the chief justice and a judge of the Maldivian top court behind the bars.
Many international groups and countries, including India, have voiced their concerns over the arrests and called for their release and smooth running of state institutions.
In the run-up to the elections, international monitors have repeatedly urged the Maldivian government to ensure free and fair polls. But, experts and observers said that Yameen is unlikely to pay heed to such demands.
The Yameen government has cracked down on media organisations in the last few months, imposing a draconian anti-defamation law and allowing only a handful of them to cover the elections.
Amidst this, Maldivian police personnel on Saturday raided Solih's campaign office in Male. The police said that there were reports of illegal activity, but the MDP, rebuffed the claims, saying the officers had illegally entered the building, Maldives Independent reported.
Yameen came to power in 2013 elections, defeating Nasheed in what was a controversial round of polling. The latter, who resigned in 2012, following a political crisis in the island nation, was sentenced to 13 years of prison for terrorism charges in 2015.
For a majority win, a candidate must secure 50 per cent of the votes in the first round. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote, a second round will be held.