A third attempt to hold a presidential election in the Indian Ocean island nation of Maldives was derailed early Sunday, after an order from the Supreme Court delayed a runoff vote scheduled for that day.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed won the most votes in the election on Saturday, roughly 47 percent, which was a commanding lead over his closest rival - though this wasn't enough to avoid a runoff. According to Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, an official in Mr. Nasheed’s party, the Supreme Court ordered the Sunday vote suspended, after receiving petitions requesting a delay. It was recommended that the vote should be held next weekend.
Maldives, officially the Republic of the Maldives, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean, consisting of a double chain of twenty-six atolls. Maldives is a fragile democracy, which elected its first president (Nasheed) five years ago, after 30 years of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Among Nasheed’s rivals are candidates tied to Gayoom, and prominent factions in the present government remain loyal to the old government. Commenting on the Sunday elections, Ghafoor described the atmosphere as being an “eerie calm,” adding that the vote would likely not take place.
“The people are confused. Nobody knows what is going on, except that there are these benchmarks we can see for ourselves. Now we are in limbo. Some people think voting should go on at 11 a.m., as scheduled,” Ghafoor added. The Supreme Court's order declared that “all relevant state authorities are informed that today’s election cannot take place.”
Mr. Nasheed’s supporters, along with several international players, protested the delay. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that it was “unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date” and warned that it would lead to instability. “Changing the goal posts is unfair to Maldivian voters,” she said, adding that it is “now imperative that the second round take place immediately and in line with elections commission directions in order to ensure the Maldivian people are led by an elected president of their choice.”
Nasheed resigned as president in 2012, in what was described as a coup led by Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik. Incidentally, Virgin founder and international tycoon Richard Branson had penned an open letter to Manik, conveying his shock over the aforementioned coup. Branson wrote, "Forgive me for finding it completely astounding that you have been part of an overthrow of a democratically elected government that has effectively let the old regime back into power."
In the initial election in September, Nasheed received the lion's share of votes, about 45 percent, but the Supreme Court annulled that tally after one of the losing candidates claimed that there were electoral violations. A second election in October was halted when police surrounded the election commission’s offices in Male, claiming they'd received a court order to shut it down, after some candidates had not approved voter rolls.
Maldives is likely best known for it's tourism industry, with millions of tourists arriving to experience it's pristine, blue lagoons.
Image via YouTube.