The President of the Maldives, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, 61, who is seeking re-election, comes second with 39.10% behind Mohamed Muizzu, 45, who obtains 46.08%, according to the first provisional results which suggest a second round.
The leader is seeking a second term in this presidential election which serves, de facto, as a referendum on the archipelago's desire to renew its relations with India.
When he came to power, Mr. Solih rushed to restore relations with New Delhi after defeating his predecessor Abdulla Yameen (2013-2018), who relied on China to obtain loans for construction projects and diplomatic support.
In December, Mr. Yameen, the main opposition figure, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for corruption and money laundering. The ex-strongman of the Maldives was not allowed to run for president.
His party, the Maldives Progressive Party, supports Male Mayor and former Housing Minister Mohamed Muizzu, who is now a surprise.
Mr Solih received 58.3% of the vote in the previous election, but this time his party has split and a dissident is also in the running.
If no candidate manages to obtain an absolute majority in the first round, a second will be organized on September 30.
The Indian Ocean archipelago, popular for its luxury tourism, adopted a multi-party system in 2008, after having been administered by a single party since the end of its status as a British protectorate in 1965.
Polling stations, around a quarter of which are in the capital Malé and others on the tiny coral islets scattered across the country's 800 kilometers, closed on Saturday after eight hours of voting.
“We have not reported significant unrest anywhere in the country,” said Ibrahim Mohamed Solih after voting. “There is unprecedented peace in the Maldives.”
Former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who voted early and whose son is one of the opposition candidates, wished the Maldives that they "may continue to reap the fruits of true democracy in peace for years to come.
“We recorded 60% turnout after six hours of voting,” an election official in Male told reporters.
"We saw dozens of people queuing before the polls even opened," said another election official at the Aminiyya school polling station in the capital.
Some 283,000 citizens eligible to vote had to choose between eight candidates.
Voting is also taking place in the southern Indian state of Kerala, as well as the capitals of Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Britain and the United Arab Emirates, where the Maldivian diaspora is large.
The Maldives is one of the countries most vulnerable to global warming, with 80% of the land less than one meter above sea level.
09/09/2023 22:26:35 - Malé (Maldives) (AFP) - © 2023 AFP