Maldives vote must go ahead, says frontrunner
Former Maldivian president and presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed (C) is all smiles outside the election office in Male on October 18, 2013
The Supreme Court annulled the results of the September 7 first ballot but the re-run has also been thrown into grave doubt over disputed electoral rolls, heightening fears for the young democracy 20 months after a violent change in leadership.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed, 46, topped last month's aborted contest, although he fell short of the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory.
"There is nothing wrong with the (voters') lists. The Elections Commission is obliged to hold the elections," Nasheed told reporters Friday after meeting Fuwad Thowfeek, the commission chairman.
But just hours before polling stations were due to open, the business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, one of the three candidates, filed a last-ditch petition in the Supreme Court, his lawyer told reporters in Male.
"We have information that the EC wants to have the election even though the electoral registers have not been approved by all candidates as ordered by the court," Mohamed Haleem said.
He said he expected the court to rule on their petition before voting was due to begin at 7:30 am (0230 GMT) on Saturday. The third candidate, Abdullah Yameen, has also refused to endorse the electoral roll.
The re-run was ordered following a petition, also by Ibrahim, who alleged irregularities in the first poll, despite international monitors saying the vote was credible, free and fair.
The latest court move came as the United States and regional power India urged Maldivian politicians to ensure that elections were allowed to go ahead without further obstacles.
The US embassy urged Maldivian politicians to ensure "democracy is not undermined and that free, fair, credible and inclusive elections can take place peacefully and in line with international standards".
"The United States is concerned the re-organised first round of the Maldivian presidential election, set for October 19, may now be postponed," the embassy said.
Earlier, elections chief Thowfeek acknowledged Yameen and Ibrahim could prevent the contest from taking place.
"Tomorrow's election is in their hands," he said.
Growing international alarm
Nasheed, who says 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 in a first round on September 7.
Yameen, half brother of the honeymoon islands' long-time ex-ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, won 25.35 percent and would have faced Nasheed in a run-off last month.
The decision to order a re-run this Saturday allowed third-placed candidate Ibrahim to re-enter the contest.
Yameen's running mate Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said on Twitter 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!" he wrote.
There has been heavy international pressure to ensure the Maldives chooses a new president by November 11 in line with the fledgling democracy's constitution.
Gayoom ruled the Maldives, which has a population of around 350,000, for 30 years until he lost the first democratic election in 2008 to Nasheed.
Observers say Gayoom's supporters still control key levers of power such as the judiciary and do not want to see Nasheed return to office.
India dispatched Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh for talks with leaders Thursday to ensure the elections go ahead.
"My visit to the Maldives was in the context of the very close relationship" between India and the Maldives, Singh said Friday in New Delhi.
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 ever since Nasheed was toppled following a mutiny by police in February 2012.
The political unrest briefly threatened the vital tourism sector, which draws a million well-heeled visitors a year.
Outgoing president Mohamed Waheed, who replaced Nasheed but is not running, has promised a smooth transition of power.
He was humiliated in the September 7 polls, winning just over five percent of the vote.
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