Maldives vote to go ahead despite court case
Former Maldivian president and presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed (C) is all smiles outside the election office in Male on October 18, 2013
Voting had been in doubt up until hours before polls were due to open, sparking international concern about political stability in the fledgling democracy 20 months after a violent change in leadership.
"We will hold the election in accordance with the guidelines issued by the supreme court," head of the archipelago's elections commission, Fuwad Thowfeek, told reporters in the capital Male early on Saturday.
The supreme court last week annulled the first round of voting on September 7, citing irregularities -- even though international observers said the polls were free and fair -- and ordered a re-run.
Voting was due to start at 7:30 am (0230 GMT).
"The start of the voting may be delayed in some places, but we will allow more time for people to cast their ballots," Thowfeek said.
The fresh poll had been in doubt because two of the candidates had refused to endorse voter lists, a requirement imposed by the supreme court.
Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who topped the first round of voting, was the only one of the three candidates who had approved the lists.
Nasheed wanted the re-run ballot to go ahead while his two rivals went to the supreme court on Friday hoping to force a delay.
"The court issued a decision saying that the election should be in accordance with the guidelines already given," Thowfeek said.
He said the court drama had delayed sending electoral materials to far-flung atolls in the Indian Ocean nation of 350,000 Sunni Muslims, but that voters would be given more time to cast their ballots.
Nasheed, 46, the frontrunner, insisted Friday that the poll go ahead as planned, dismissing the challenge by business tycoon Qasim Ibrahim, who came third in last month's aborted poll, and Abdullah Yameen, who was a distant second.
"There is nothing wrong with the (voters') lists. The elections commission is obliged to hold the elections," Nasheed said Friday after meeting Thowfeek.
Growing international alarm
The United States and regional power India called for the election in the tourist paradise to go ahead without further obstacles.
Nasheed, who says he was ousted in a coup last year, won 45.45 percent of the votes cast when the archipelago went to the polls in September -- short of the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory.
Yameen, half brother of the islands' long-time ex-ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, won 25.35 percent and would have faced Nasheed in a run-off.
The decision to order a re-run allowed third-placed candidate Ibrahim to re-enter the contest.
There has been heavy international pressure to ensure the country chooses a new president by November 11 in line with its constitution.
Gayoom ruled the Maldives 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.
Western diplomats have also been following the unfolding events with alarm.
Political tensions have remained high on the islands ever since Nasheed was toppled following a mutiny by police in February 2012.
Outgoing president Mohamed Waheed, who replaced Nasheed but is not running in the fresh polls, has promised a smooth transition of power.
He was humiliated in the September 7 vote, winning just over five percent of ballots.
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