MALE (TIP)s: The Maldives returns to the polls on October 19 for another attempt to choose a president after judges annulled last month’s election results, deepening concern about political stability in the fledgling democracy. Regional power India sent a top envoy for talks with presidential candidates october 15 as international pressure mounted on Maldivian authorities to stage a peaceful election. “They (the Indians) believe that there will be no further issues and a smooth elections will be held,” former president Mohamed Nasheed, who topped the September 7 ballot, told reporters after meeting India’s Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh on Thursday. There was no immediate comment from Indian diplomats about Singh’s talks with candidates, but New Delhi had urged Male to ensure they have a new president by November 11, a constitutional requirement. Election officials were working overtime to ready the luxury tourist destination for Saturday’s polls, after the Supreme Court last week scrapped the first round of voting, citing irregularities, even though international observers said those polls were free and fair.
Nasheed, a pro-democracy campaigner who claims he was ousted in a coup last year, won the September 7 election with 45.45 percent of the vote, and remains the frontrunner in the new contest. Britain urged the Maldives to hold fair and smooth elections, where political tensions have remained high ever since Nasheed was toppled following a mutiny by police in February 2012. “We are urging all the presidential candidates to act in line with the interest of the people of the Maldives and to respect the democratic process,” British High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, John Rankin, said. “We have made it clear that there must be no intimidation of the independent Elections Commission or of domestic NGOs monitoring the elections,” Rankin told reporters in Colombo on Wednesday. Rankin warned that further political instability in the Indian Ocean islands nation could undermine its tourism industry, which drew nearly a million holidaymakers last year. “So, it’s vital that the country gets this right,” he said. Elections Commission chief Fuwad Thowfeek said his staff were working hard to prepare for the vote, even though another legal challenge from one of Nasheed’s opponents could still stop it from going ahead.
“We are very certain the election will be held as scheduled, but not everything is within our control,” Thowfeek told reporters in Male late on Wednesday, referring to a possible last-minute challenge. Nasheed’s party views Saturday’s election as a chance to capitalise on its win last time around, by garnering more than 50 percent of the vote from the nation’s 239,000 registered voters and avoiding a runoff. His main challenger is Abdullah Yameen, the half brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the islands under a oneparty system for 30 years till 2008 when the nation adopted multi-party democracy. Yameen garnered 25.35 percent of the vote in September, pushing resort tycoon and businessman Qasim Ibrahim to a close third place. Ibrahim lodged the initial court case alleging irregularities on the electoral list, which could have influenced the order of the second and third-placed candidates President Mohamed Waheed, a former UN diplomat who has antagonised foreign allies since taking office after Nasheed, has announced he will not run on Saturday and has promised to ensure a smooth transition of power. He was humiliated at the September 7 poll, winning just over five percent of the vote. Diplomats have urged candidates against derailing Saturday’s vote. “There is a lot of potential for trouble if there is another legal challenge to the elections,” a Colombo-based Western diplomat said. “If they fail to have a president elected soon, we will be getting into unchartered waters,” the diplomat said. The United States said last week that it was important the election process “(goes) forward unimpeded in a fair, inclusive and transparent way.”