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Maldives holds run-off presidential election

By Xinhua,

Male : The run-off presidential election began in the Maldives Tuesday morning which will see the incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom competes with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed.

Elections officials said 209,332 people have been registered tovote in 401 polling stations in the country which consists of 1,192 small islands scattered across 800 km of the Indian Ocean neighboring India and Sri Lanka.

The voting booths opened at 9 a.m. (0400 GMT) and are scheduled to be closed at 8 p.m. (1500 GMT), but the closing time might be extended for a while if the voting can not be finished by that time, officials said.

Around 2,400 observers, including those from the European Union and the Commonwealth, are observing the election.

At T14 polling station in central Male, observers from both parties are present to monitor the process.

“So far there is no problem. But we are worrying something may happen in the afternoon or later,” said Mohamed Shiham, who is observing the voting on behalf of the MDP.

The sunny weather contributes to the high turnout in Male. Election officials at T14 polling center said of 1,161 people registered there, more than 200 have cast their votes as of 11 a.m.(0600 GMT).

“I will vote for Gayoom. He has brought a lot of good changes to the Maldives. Now we are the richest country in South Asia,” said a taxi driver.

Another taxi driver hasn’t made up his mind, but he admitted that most of his friends are in favor of Nasheed.

Analysts say Tuesday’s election will be a close race between Gayoom and Nasheed.

The run-off came 20 days after the first round which saw Gayoombagging 40.63 percent of the total 176,567 valid votes, but he failed to secure more than 50 percent of the votes needed to get elected in the country’s first-ever multi-party presidential election.

Gayoom, who has been the president since November 1978, ran forthe presidency for the 7th time representing the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP or the Maldivian People’s Party).

Nasheed came second with 44,293 votes or 25.09 percent of the total.

The remaining votes were divided among the other four candidates: the independent candidate Hassan Saeed, the Jumhooree Party’s Qasim Ibrahim, the Islamic Democratic Party’s Umar Naseer and the Social Liberal Party’s Ibrahim Ismail.

According to the new constitution ratified by Gayoom in August, the president shall be elected directly by the people and over 50 percent of the votes are needed to be elected.

If no candidate obtains such a majority, a run-off election must be held within 21 days after the first election. It will be contested by the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the first election.

Supported by tourism, fishing and shipping, the 850 million-U.S.-dollar economy grew by 7.6 percent in 2007 and the Maldivian government expects the economy to grow by 8.3 percent for 2008.

However, the IMF said the economic growth would slow to 6.5 percent in 2008 and its inflation would double to around 15 percent.