(CNN)The Maldives was adjusting to a new political reality Monday after the surprise election of opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih over incumbent Abdulla Yameen, who had developed close ties with China during his five years in power.
Maldives election: Solih hails new dawn after claiming election win
The Maldives Foreign Ministry said Monday that Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Solih had won the majority of votes based on a provisional count, but that official results would be confirmed within one week.
Turnout was a staggering 89% as Maldivians on the island nation and offshore cast their votes in a controversial election that observers had warned was at risk of voter fraud.
In his first news conference since declaring victory Sunday, Solih said "this is a moment of happiness, this is a moment of hope, this is a moment of history."
Solih, who is more commonly known by the nickname Ibu, said his priority is to unite the country after years of heavy-handed rule under Yameen, who is yet to concede defeat.
Hundreds of supporters in the Maldivian city of Addu waved yellow flags emblazoned with the scales of justice of Solih's Democratic Party in celebration.
David Brewster, senior research fellow at the National Security College of the Australian National University, said that the election result was an "absolute shock," given the indications that Yameen "had the result locked down tightly."
Yameen came to power in 2013 in a disputed election that opponents say was rigged. Since then, he has been accused of eroding democracy, cracking down on dissent and jailing opposition leaders.
In 2016, the Maldives withdrew from the UK Commonwealth after the association of former British colonies threatened to suspend it for chipping away at democratic institutions.
The Indian Ocean island nation, a popular tourist destination and home to about 400,000 people, has been engulfed in a political crisis since Yameen defied a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that ordered the government to reinstate opposition MPs and release political prisoners.
"For many of us this has been a difficult journey," Solih said Sunday. "A journey that has led to a prison cell or years in exile. It has been a journey which saw the complete politicization and breakdown of public institutions. But this has been a journey that has ended at the ballot box because the people willed it."
Former Maldives president and opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, watching the election from Sri Lanka, said that the election win should be a turning point for the Indian Ocean nation.
"We want to see a smooth transition. We do not want to see President Yameen back to his old tricks. No more Supreme Courts, no more martial laws, no more emergency rule, no more suppression. We will again hopefully make a beautiful country."