Maldives presidential race heads for run-off

    By IANS,

    Male: Maldives presidential election is heading for a second round run off as no candidate has managed to obtain 50 percent of the vote, the latest data reported by the media showed here Saturday.

    There were few surprises as former president Mohammad Nasheed came within touching distance of winning the elections grabbing 46.91 percent of the vote, Xinhua reported citing state-run TV Maldives.

    However, he is still behind the crucial 50 percent, which means that he will face a second round with former president Abdul Gayoom’s half-brother MP Abdulla Yameen who has clocked up 29.11 percent.

    Tycoon Gasim Ibrahim who is often referred to as the richest man in this south Asian nation is in the rear with 23.31 percent.

    Nasheed, as current statistics show, has managed to make a marginal improvement from his 45.45 percent vote in the first round of elections held Feb 7.

    In that round there was only a 3,000 vote margin dividing second place Yameen and Gasim, but according to the statistics released by local media that gap has widened in the latest round.

    The Maldives saw a voter turnout of 88 percent to elect a new president Saturday.

    Voting, which started at 7 a.m., ended eight-and-a-half hours later, Haveeru Online reported.

    According to the Elections Commission, 239,105 people were eligible to vote, for which 475 ballot boxes were placed in the country and abroad.

    Maldives election officials would now prepare for the second round of polling ahead of a crucial constitutional deadline Nov 11, which states that if the country does not elect a president by then, the parliament speaker will take over and oversee the transition of power.

    It is not yet clear whether the second round runoff will take place as scheduled on Sunday as an official statement is yet to be released by the Elections Commission.

    Nonetheless, the Supreme Court has ordered that outgoing president Waheed should remain in power until a new government is ready to take over.

    The winner will be sworn in Monday.

    Transparency Maldives, which fielded the largest number of 400 monitors across 200 islands, said the atmosphere was conducive for free and fair elections and urged officials to maintain it till the end of the vote.

    Voters, especially youngsters in Male, expressed disappointment over the deep political infighting that had derailed two previous attempts to hold elections in September and October.

    “Election is going well but we don’t trust the current government. They have power of the judiciary and they might do anything using their power. So we are just voting, we don’t have any hope on what is going to happen next,” a youngster who identified himself as Ahmed told Xinhua.

    Maldives election officials Saturday said due process was being followed in the presidential election and rejected allegations over doubtful voters lists.

    Elections Commission Secretary General Asim Abdul Sattar said no such lists were being used in any polling station across the Maldives and abroad.

    “It’s not a problem even if all the pages have not been signed. There are some lists where only the last page had been signed,” Sattar was quoted as saying by Haveeru Online.

    The assurance came after Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen said he was “unhappy” with the way voting was taking place.

    According to the report, the PPM had signed every page of every voters’ list of the 475 ballot boxes placed across the Maldives and abroad.

    Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had signed the last page of each list while Jumhoory Party (JP) had endorsed only some lists, the report added.

    Abdulla Yameen said he had little confidence in the elections being fair.

    He added that there was foul play involved in the presidential race.

    “Yes absolutely. There are lists at the polling stations that the candidates have not signed and that is completely wrong and these complaints are being filed with the Elections Commissioner as we speak,” he said.

    This is the third attempt being made to elect a president after two previous attempts were derailed by political infighting.

    The first round of polling held Sep 7 was annulled by the Supreme Court after allegations of mass scale vote rigging.

    A second attempt to hold elections Oct 19 was called off hours before voting was to begin after police refused to distribute ballot papers and boxes across the country.