Maldives delay presidential vote amid underpant protests
Protestors gather outside the court that suspended the September 28 run-off presidential elections in Male on September 26, 2013.
The independent Maldivian Elections Commission ended a standoff with the Supreme Court by agreeing to delay indefinitely a ballot scheduled for Saturday, as a constitutional crisis over stalled elections on the honeymoon islands deepened.
"The Supreme Court has ordered security services to prevent any effort to hold the election on Saturday," the Commission said in a statement.
"This is why we are not able to hold the run-off election within the constitutional deadline of 21 days of the first round."
It added that the environment in the atoll nation was "not conducive for a free, fair and democratic election".
As it became clear the vote would not take place, hundreds of opposition Maldivian democratic Party (MDP) activists stepped up their nightly protests in the capital island Male, witnesses said.
Some of the activists were seen clashing with police who made several arrests in a scene that has played out routinely in the capital in recent months.
MDP supporters have taken to displaying white underpants in public to taunt Supreme Court judge Ali Hameed who was allegedly filmed during a sex romp in a video that has gone viral.
The court has angered the MDP and been criticised by the international community for suspending the runoff round of presidential elections at which MDP candidate Mohamed Nasheed was expected to do well after winning the first round with 45.45 percent of the popular vote.
The run-off has been halted pending a petition by the third-placed candidate who challenged the result and said he should be facing Nasheed in the final two-way race.
The Maldives has resisted international pressure to ensure the run-off takes place without delay and outgoing President Mohamed Waheed has maintained that they must allow the legal process to take its course.
The constitutional crisis worsened on Friday after the head of the Election Commission Fuad Thaufeeq said voting would take place in defiance of the court, but by Friday evening he backed down.
Police said they had arrested 14 protesters aged between 18 and 47 on Wednesday for the underpant protests and warned against any violence.
Police spokesman Hassan Haneef said they had obstructed police who tried to pull down a super-sized pair hung up outside a courthouse in the island of Rasdhoo on Wednesday.
A senior MDP legislator Mariya Didi also raised a large pair of white underpants at a protest rally in the capital Thursday to denounce judicial corruption.
"Our supporters are very imaginative and use novel ways to keep up their protests," MDP spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor told AFP. "The underpants protest is one of them. It is peaceful."
The Maldives' fledgling democracy has been in crisis for the last year and a half after the violent ousting of Nasheed, the islands' first democratically elected president who came to power in 2008.
He resigned after a mutiny by police, but said his decision to step down was made under duress and amounted to a coup orchestrated by the Maldives' long-time autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled for three decades.
Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner, has railed against the country's judiciary before.
He sees it as biased and intent on protecting the interests of former autocrat Gayoom and of a handful of tycoons who control the tourism industry in the country of 1,192 coral-fringed islands.
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