The ex-leader of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed (Photo: Reuters)
The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, who was ousted last year in what he called a coup, now faces a runoff against the brother of the country's former dictator after falling short of a clear majority in the Indian Ocean archipelago's presidential election.
Mohamed Nasheed, who received 45 percent of Saturday's vote, could still see a challenge in securing a second-round majority if his three election opponents form an alliance for the 28 September runoff.
Nasheed — who in 2008 won the country's first multiparty election after 30 years of autocracy — needed at least 50 percent in the first round to avoid the runoff against Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of Maldives' former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Qayyoom polled 25 percent on Saturday, while businessman Qasim Ibrahim was a close third with 24 percent and incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan ended with five percent, according to Elections Commission results released Sunday.
The island nation, known for its luxurious beach resorts, has been in political turmoil since Nasheed resigned last year after weeks of public protests and slipping support from the military and police. He later said he was forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinying security forces and politicians backed by the country's former autocrat.
Though a domestic commission of inquiry threw out his claim, Nasheed has repeatedly dismissed as illegal the government of his former vice president — current President Hassan.
Despite winning the most first-round votes on Saturday, Nasheed may still face a battle getting over the finish line as the third- and fourth-place finishers were also his bitter critics and are likely to throw their support to Gayoom.
More than 211,000 of the Maldives' 240,000 eligible voters turned out on Saturday, hoping to end the political instability and answer questions about their government's legitimacy.
"The ruling government came (to power) not in a very good manner," Ahmed Ilyas, a 37-year-old port employee, said after voting. "Hopefully, after the election the international community and the locals will fully cooperate with the government."
Transparency Maldives, an independent election monitor said apart from minor complaints of violence the election was free and peaceful.
Whoever wins the second round will need to build public confidence in government institutions that are accused of political bias, such as the courts, police and military, and deal with pressing issues, including high unemployment, increasing drug addiction among young people and improving transportation among the nation's far-off islands in the Indian Ocean.
Nasheed's fall from power last year came after he ordered the military to arrest a senior judge whom he accused of bias.