MALE, Maldives — Police in the Maldives raided the main campaign office of the opposition presidential candidate on Saturday, the eve of an election viewed as a referendum on whether democracy will survive in the country.
Police said they had obtained a warrant to search the office based on police intelligence that it may have been used to coordinate vote-buying, opposition spokesman Shauna Aminath told The Associated Press, adding that a senior campaign official had been named as a suspect.
The opposition's presidential candidate, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, was not in the office at the time of the raid, Aminath said.
While police searched the opposition campaign office, journalists in the capital were summoned away to the elections office to pick up mandatory election-coverage permits.
The move is a sign of a government crackdown against the opposition that has raised more fears that Sunday's election may be rigged to favor President Yameen Abdul Gayoom's party.
Responding to the raid, Hamid Abdul Gafoor, a spokesman for former president Mohamed Nasheed, said Gayoom was trying "to muzzle his way" to victory.
The European Union said Friday that it was not sending election observers because the Maldives had failed to meet the basic conditions for monitoring. The White House has threatened to impose sanctions on Maldives officials if the elections are not free and fair.
Earlier Saturday, the Indian Ocean archipelago nation's election chief, Ahmed Shareef, said all measures had been taken to ensure a fair vote.
"So far, we have facilitated whatever the opposition candidate requested, within the regulations and laws permitting us," Shareef told reporters. "I don't think he could give any concrete reason to call it unfair."
Still, opposition activists voiced their concerns.
"There is no democracy in the Maldives — democracy has vanished under President Yameen," said Adam Ahmed, a 58-year-old opposition activist. He said a second term for the incumbent could mean an end to an "already withering" democracy, as many voters wanted to see a change of government.
Beyond the postcard image the Maldives has of luxury resorts and white sand beaches, the 400,000 citizens of the former British protectorate have struggled to maintain the democratic system established in 2008.
The Maldives' third multiparty presidential election is being held five years after Yameen began consolidating power, rolling back press and individual freedoms, asserting control over independent governmental institutions and jailing or forcing major political rivals into exile.
Yameen has jailed two former presidents, including his half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the Maldives' former strongman, his former vice president, two Supreme Court justices, two former defense ministers and many others after trials criticized for a lack of due process.
As protests culminating in violent confrontations with police and mass arrests have grown, opposition parties — many of them Yameen's own former political partners — formed an alliance in exile with the aim of unseating him.
Supporters of the opposition candidate and the president gathered Saturday at their respective campaign offices in Male, the capital, for final campaign rallies, as pink and green campaign banners hung across the city's streets.
"I don't agree with the policies of this government and also some corrupt activities," said 19-year-old Scifulla Waheed, who is looking to vote for the first time on Sunday. "It is high time that we should rise to change the government."
Waheed, who believes Yameen has weekend democracy in the Maldives, said a free and fair election "will change this regime."
Yameen's supporters were also vocal.
"Under President Yameen, everything has improved," said Latheef, who gave only one name. "If the opposition comes into power, the economy will be in doldrums and we will have to face hardships."