MALE – Voters in the Maldives have chosen the brother of the nation’s former strongman to be their new president over the archipelago’s first democratically elected leader in a closely fought runoff election Saturday.
Yaamin Abdul Gayoom had 51.39 percent of the total vote, according to results provided by the official Elections Commission. Gayoom is the brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the Indian Ocean nation for 30 years.
Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in the first multiparty election in 2008 but resigned last year amid protests, received 48.61 percent of the vote. Nasheed led with 47 percent in last week’s first round to Gayoom’s 30 percent. The runoff was required because no candidate got 50 percent.
Gayoom improved on his performance by courting supporters of tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, who finished third with 23 percent of the vote last week. Ibrahim drew his support from conservative Muslims who accused Nasheed of undermining Islam because of his friendly relations with Israel and Western nations.
Nasheed was the clear pre-election favorite but lost his momentum amid long delays to complete the election.
After his victory became apparent, Gayoom told reporters that Maldivians had decided what was best for them and asked the international community to respect their choice. “It’s now time to bring peace, the people have decided. It’s now time for development,” he said.
Nasheed conceded the election and said he would not challenge the results, adding: “This is a very happy day for all of us, we now have an elected president. We don’t want to go to the courts.”
The Maldives had failed to elect a president in three attempts since September, raising concerns in the international community that the fledgling democracy may slip back to authoritarian rule.
Nasheed received 45 percent in a Sept. 7 election, but the result was annulled by the Supreme Court after Ibrahim complained that the voters’ register contained made-up names and those of dead people. Last month, police stopped a second attempt at holding the poll because all the candidates did not accept a new voters’ list as the court had mandated.
The court intervened again to change the runoff election date, which had been set for the day after the Nov. 9 vote. It also ordered incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to continue in office despite the official end of his term on Nov. 11, purportedly to avoid a constitutional void because the country is past the legal deadline to elect and seat a new president.
The European Union, concerned about the return of authoritarian rule, warned that it is considering “appropriate measures” if the Maldives failed to elect a new president Saturday. It said further delays would be seen as attempts to prevent Maldivians from exercising their democratic rights.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier in the week that Hassan’s decision to stay beyond his term endangered the people’s right to elect a new leader and called for the election to be concluded soon.
The Maldives has seen much upheaval in the five years since its first multiparty election. There has been conflict between the judiciary, parliament and the presidency, which often worked in different directions. The judiciary and bureaucracy were often accused of being loyal to Gayoom, the former autocratic ruler.
Nasheed was elected in 2008, but resigned midway through his term last year after weeks of public protests and declining support from the military and police over his decision to detain a senior judge whom he perceived to be biased. He later said he was ousted in a coup, but an inquiry commission rejected the allegation.
The Maldives is a predominantly Muslim nation of 350,000 people. About 240,000 Maldivians were eligible to vote Saturday, and turnout was more than 91 percent.