New Delhi: Political uncertainty continues in the Maldives with the country's Supreme Court postponing today's scheduled run-off to November 16. That heightens the possibility of a constitutional crisis as the current President's term ends at midnight on November 10 and he has said he has no desire to continue in office beyond that date.
The top court, in a separate ruling on Saturday, said the current President can stay in power after the constitutionally mandated deadline.
Ex-President Mohamed Nasheed won the fresh first round on Saturday by more than what he had in the annulled vote held on September 7. Mr Nasheed was the country's first democratically elected President in 2008. He resigned in February 2012 in what he describes as a coup at gunpoint.
The Supreme Court also struck down a Majlis (Parliament) resolution that stated that the Speaker (from Mr Nasheed's party) would be appointed President if a new one wasn't elected by November 11.
Meanwhile, Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen has resigned. Though no official reason has been given as to why Mr Deen took this step, it has definitely added pressure on the government.
The island nation has seen a lot of political flux with the Supreme Court first annulling the first round held on September 7, then postponing the vote. The police prevented the Election Commission from holding a re-vote on October 19.
Second placed candidate not signing voter registry: Poll panel
The head of the Election Commission, Fuad Thaufeeq, said in a press conference on Saturday that it will be impossible to hold the run-off on Sunday as the government isn't giving the necessary support. He also said that the second-placed candidate had not signed the voter registry as mandated by the country's top court.
In the first round re-vote on Saturday, none of the three candidates got to the magic 50% + 1 vote. Provisional figures gave Mohamed Nasheed 46.93 % of the vote. Abdulla Yameen Gayoom, former autocrat Maumoon Gayoom's brother, was second with 29.73 %. They will face each other in the run-off.
Qasim Ibrahim was third with 23.34 % and is knocked out of the race. His Jumhoory Party has petitioned the Supreme Court to postpone the run-off on Sunday. In its plea, Mr Ibrahim says there is no time to campaign and not enough time for the third-placed candidate to tell his voters which of the other two candidates he supports.
Late on Saturday night, Mr Nasheed's party, the MDP, has said the run-off must be held on Sunday. The party deputy spokesperson, Ali Shiyam, said in a statement, "The international community must apply pressure - including targeted, punitive sanctions - on those individuals who seek to undermine Maldivian democracy."
In his first reaction, Mr Nasheed congratulated the second-placed candidate and said he was ready to take him on in the run-off.
US, UK, Commonwealth condemn delay
The US, UK and the Commonwealth have condemned any delay in the run-off. The US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said, "To delay second round voting beyond the constitutional requirements for a new government by November 11 will create uncertainties that may destabilize Maldives. Changing the goalposts is unfair to Maldivian voters; we believe Maldivians deserve better."
Foreign and Commonwealth office in a statement said, "Further delays would only create uncertainty in the constitutional situation and risk instability damaging to Maldives' international reputation."
Sir Donald McKinnon, Commonwealth Secretary General's special envoy stated, "It is unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date. Voters deserve better from their leaders and a greater degree of predictability over something as serious as a presidential election."
India and the international community
India and the international community have expressed displeasure over the delays. India had warned parties that the will of the people should be respected.
Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who was rushed to Male, issued a statement, after meeting all parties on October 16, saying, "She expressed the hope and expectation that the electoral process would proceed as scheduled with the first round to be held on October 19, and if required, the second round before November 3 so that a new President is sworn in on November 11 as stipulated by the constitution of Maldives."
International observers including former Indian Chief Election Commissioners J M Lyngdoh, B B Tandon and N Gopalaswami are in the Maldives for the rescheduled polls and had also applauded the first round as observers.
In an a statement in September they said, "The success in the first round is an achievement which any of the mature democracies would have been proud of. This was a transparent and fair election and there is no reason why the run off should be any less than the first round."