Mohammed Nasheed won the first round of presidential election.
New Delhi: In the strongest public sign of its displeasure, India has given a thumbs-down to the indefinite postponement of the final round of Maldives' presidential elections. The court halted the elections, scheduled for Saturday, after allegations of irregularities in the first round by Qasim Abrahim, who was placed third after Round 1.
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"We are deeply disappointed and distressed that this has happened. Our understanding of the democratic system is that even if there are imperfections in the election system, those imperfections need to be addressed in a manner which is not destructive of the very process of elections," Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid said in New York.
Maldives' President Mohammed Wahid Hassan issued a statement on Wednesday criticising foreign interference. "I call on foreign governments, the UN, and the Commonwealth to show responsibility and to refrain from issuing statements commenting on, and speculating about, the on-going court case. Irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations would not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country," Mr Hassan said.
Ex-President Mohamed Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party was ahead of its nearest rival after the first round. Mr Nasheed was the country's first democratically elected President in 2008. He defeated the then President Maumoon Gayoom, whose 30-year autocratic rule was once the longest in Asia. Mr Gayoom's brother, Yameen, was placed second and was to go head-to-head with Mr Nasheed in the run-off on September 28. A run-off was necessitated because none of the parties were able to secure 50 per cent of the vote in first round to avoid a run-off.
Mr Ibrahim approached the Supreme Court alleging electoral irregularities. He said in his petition that people who had died were on the electoral rolls; he also said there were rampant underage and multiple voting in the first round. The Supreme Court is yet to decide on the petition, which is asking for an annulment of the first round and fresh elections.
Mr Gayoom too has said that the first round results should be scrapped. If that happens, many experts feel, it could lead to a constitutional crisis. Starting the process from square one could mean the new President would not be sworn in by November 11, a date that is seen by many as a constitutional cut-off.
The Maldives elections are keenly watched by many countries like the US, UK, Australia and India. 'I don't want to comment on the contents of the judgement but certainly on the implications of the interference with an election. There is a window of time available because they have a November date by which a President has to be installed and I would urge all countries who care for democracy and have a special cause of Maldives at heart, I would urge them all to use their good offices to ensure that democracy is preserved," said Mr Khurshid.
Over 2,000 Maldivian and international observers were present for the first round. Among them were former Indian Chief Election Commissioners J M Lyngdoh, B B Tandon and N Gopalaswami, who all gave the polls a resounding thumbs-up.
Mr Nasheed's party has slammed the Supreme Court for postponing the elections. "In complete defiance of the Constitution, this act by a discredited court is a betrayal of democracy and the will of the Maldivian people. This ruling is a cynical attempt by President Nasheed's political opponents to delay an election they feared they were likely to lose," MDP's international affairs spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said.
Mr Nasheed's fall from power last year came after he ordered the military to arrest a senior judge whom he accused of bias. Mr Nasheed said he was forced from power in a "coup at virtual gunpoint" and his then Vice President Mr Waheed took over.
Indian company GMR, which had the largest foreign direct investment in the country, was unceremoniously shunted out. Mr Nasheed has promised to look at reversing that decision, if he returns to power. Since then, he has been arrested and faced court cases that could have barred him from contesting. He even took refuge in the Indian mission in the capital Male' for over 10 days - till he was certain he could run.