The Maldives yesterday voted in a run-off presidential election held under intense international pressure to elect a new leader and end months of political unrest.
Polling booths across the Indian Ocean archipelago opened at 7:30am, with the electorate of 239,000 given eight-and-a-half hours to choose between two candidates.
The head of the country’s election commission said he hoped that the vote count would be completed within hours of the polls closing.
“The commission hopes to count the votes and announce the preliminary results before midnight,” Fuwad Thowfeek told reporters.
“Official results will be announced tomorrow,” he added.
The commission said there were lines outside some of the 475 polling booths scattered across the islands when voting began.
After an annulled result and two canceled polls, foreign diplomats have increasingly viewed delays as politically motivated.
The EU warned of “appropriate measures” if yesterday’s election did not go ahead.
Maldivian opposition leader Mohammed Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner who won the first free polls in 2008, is the frontrunner 21 months after he resigned under pressure from demonstrations and mutinous police officers. In a highly unusual move on the eve of a national election, the man who replaced him as president, Mohammed Waheed, left the country on Thursday to travel to Hong Kong for a medical appointment for his wife.
“He is constantly in touch. There’s no reason for concern,” his spokesman Masood Imad said on Friday, adding that parliament would be responsible for inaugurating a new leader today.
Waheed, whose term expired last weekend under the terms of the constitution, has remained in office, despite demands from Nasheed’s party for him to step down and growing pressure from Western nations and India. He announced his intention to step down after elections yesterday in a speech on Thursday.
Nasheed faces a run-off vote against Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the archipelago famed for its coral-fringed islands for 30 years.
After casting his vote, Yameen said he had no complaints about the electoral process.
“I will accept the results no matter what the outcome,” he told reporters.
Nasheed, a former political prisoner, won a first vote on Sept. 7 with 45 percent.
However, the result was scrapped by the Maldivian Supreme Court which upheld a complaint about voter list irregularities.
After another attempt to hold the poll was blocked, a re-run of the first round took place on Saturday last week, which Nasheed won by a larger margin — nearly 47 percent — but still not enough for an outright victory. A run-off election announced for the day after by the independent Election Commission was again canceled by the Supreme Court, which is dominated by judges named during Gayoom’s three-decade rule.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton issued a warning on Thursday.
“The EU underlines that neither continuing uncertainty nor a drift towards autocratic rule would be acceptable to the EU and that it is therefore ready to consider appropriate measures should the poll on Saturday not bring the electoral process to a successful conclusion,” she said in a statement.