Maldives presidential polls in doubt: Election chief

AFP , Friday 18 Oct 2013

As former president Mohamed Nasheed is the only candidate of three to have endorsed the voting roll just hours ahead of presidential elections, his party calls the delay 'an obstruction of the election process'

The Maldives' electoral commission warned Friday that this weekend's presidential polls could be scrapped at the last minute as two of the candidates have still to endorse the voting roll.

Just hours before polling stations were due to open, commission chairman Fuwad Thowfeek said former president Mohamed Nasheed was the only one of the three candidates who had approved the lists -- a legal prerequisite for Saturday's contest to proceed.

"So far, only Nasheed has signed," Thowfeek told reporters in the capital Male. "If the election is not held tomorrow, then the rights of one candidate (Nasheed) will be violated."

While urging the other two candidates -- Abdullah Yameen and Qasim Ibrahim -- to endorse the list of names, Thowfeek acknowledged the pair could prevent the contest from taking place.

"Tomorrow's election is in their hands," he said.

Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said it was concerned about the developments and called it an "obstruction of the election process".

One of his key allies, Shauna Aminath, said Nasheed was meeting with the elections chief and was due to announce his stand later in the day.

"Time is extremely limited and logistics of the elections are difficult," Aminath told AFP.

"What the other two candidates are doing is obviously the obstruction of the election process."

Nasheed, a pro-democracy campaigner who claims he was ousted in a coup last year, won 45.45 percent of the votes cast when the Indian Ocean archipelago went to the polls for a first round of voting on September 7.

Yameen, who is the half brother of the islands' long-time ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, garnered 25.35 percent of the vote and would have faced Nasheed in a run-off against Nasheed last month.

But the Supreme Court subsequently annulled the result, citing irregularities, although international observers said the polls were free and fair.

The decision to order a re-run this Saturday also allowed the third-placed candidate Ibrahim, who had launched the legal challenge, to re-enter the contest.

While there was no immediate comment from Ibrahim's camp on Friday, Yameen's campaign manager Abdulla Ameen told reporters that his team needed time to study the voter lists.

"We also want to hold the elections, but in accordance with the Supreme Court order," Ameen said.

Yameen's running mate Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said he had no faith in the election commission, calling on its members to resign.

"Fair & credible election is not possible with the current members of EC. EC members must resign now, look at the mess they create now!," tweeted Ahmed.

There has been heavy international pressure to ensure that the Maldives chooses a new president by November 11 in line with the fledgling democracy's constitution.

Gayoum ruled the Maldives, which has a population of around 350,000, for 30 years until he lost the country's first democratic election in 2008 to Nasheed.

Observers say that Gayoum's supporters still control the key levers of power such as the judiciary and do not want to see Nasheed return to office.

Regional power India rushed Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh for talks with political leaders Thursday to ensure that the elections go ahead.

"I'm not here to tell them what to do," Singh told India's The Hindu newspaper in Male. "I'm here to encourage them to do what they themselves set out to do."

Western diplomats have been following the unfolding events with alarm.

"(Foreign) monitors are already in the Maldives and it will be a shame if they can't hold Saturday's elections, " one Western diplomat said.

"The country is going to be in a more difficult situation."

Political tensions have remained high on the honeymoon islands ever since Nasheed was toppled following a mutiny by police in February 2012.

Outgoing president Mohamed Waheed, who has antagonised foreign allies since taking office after Nasheed, has announced he will not run on Saturday and has promised to ensure a smooth transition of power.

He was humiliated at the September 7 poll, winning just over five percent of the vote.

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