Maldives' democratic process breaks down again amid bickering

Reuters

By J.J. Robinson

MALE, Nov 10 (Reuters) - The Maldives' top court delayedholding the second round of the country's presidential poll yetagain on Sunday, prolonging a political crisis that has sparkedinternational criticism over the Indian Ocean state's repeatedfailure to hold free elections.

Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically electedleader who first came to power in 2008 after 30 years of one-manrule, won the first round of voting on Saturday but failed towin a clear majority.

The run-off was scheduled to take place on Sunday but theSupreme Court has delayed it until Saturday, in line withdemands from Nasheed's two biggest rivals.

This weekend's poll was the Maldives' third attempt to electa new president in as many months, but the democratic processonce again broke down amid bickering between political factions.

The delay makes it unclear who will actually be in charge ofthe country from Monday, when the incumbent steps down. It isyet another distraction for a country known more for its luxurybeach resorts than its recent bouts of unrest.

Whoever wins will face a rise in Islamist ideology, humanrights abuses and a lack of investor confidence. The politicalcrisis has hit tourism, a vital source of earnings, and theMaldives has faced fuel shortages because it is unable to paysuppliers on time amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.

"To delay second-round voting beyond the constitutionalrequirements for a new government by November 11 willcreate uncertainties that may destabilise the Maldives," theU.S. States Department said in a statement.

"It is unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continueto demand changes to an agreed election date."

A Sept. 7 vote was annulled based on a secret police reportwhich found vote rigging while an October poll was halted bypolice after a Supreme Court ruling.

Nasheed, who was ousted from power last year incircumstances that his supporters say amounted to a coup, won46.93 percent of the vote, the official results showed.

Nasheed's main opponent is Abdulla Yameen, a half-brotherof Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the islands for 30 years andwas considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups. Yameenwon 29.72 percent of the vote, while resort tycoon GasimIbrahim, a finance minister under Gayoom, secured 23.34 percent. (Writing by Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Editing by MatthiasWilliams nd Nick Macfie)

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