MALE, Maldives (AP) — The first democratically elected president of the Maldives and the brother of the country's former autocratic ruler have qualified for a runoff according to results in the island nation's presidential election. But doubts emerged that the runoff could be held as planned on Sunday.
Mohamed Nasheed, who resigned as president of the Indian Ocean archipelago last year, had nearly 47 percent of the vote in Saturday's election, while Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, the brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, trailed with 30 percent. A third candidate businessman Qasim Ibrahim had 23 percent.
A runoff between the top two candidates is required if no one receives at least 50 percent of the vote. Gayoom told reporters late Saturday that he is seeking postponement of the runoff for at least 48 hours, saying he needs time to sort out alleged discrepancies in the voters' list, form alliances for the second round and campaign.
However, Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party issued a statement insisting that the runoff be held as planned and accusing his opponent of "once again, trying to subvert democracy by refusing to sign the voter lists."
It called on the international community to do everything possible to ensure that a president is elected by a constitutional deadline that falls on Monday, Nov. 11.
"The international community must apply pressure, including targeted, punitive sanctions, on those individuals who seek to undermine Maldivian democracy," the party said.
Officials have faced many obstacles in holding only the second multiparty presidential election in the country.
Two attempts at holding the election since September failed with questions over the accuracy of the voters' list prepared by the Elections Commission. The chaos left voters isolated and divided, and their country's new democracy under threat.
Observers had regarded the September election as largely free and fair, but the Supreme Court said it found the voters' register included fake names and those of dead people. Police stopped a second attempt to hold the election last month because all the candidates had not endorsed the voters' list as mandated by the Supreme Court.
Prospects for the election still looked bleak before sitting President Mohamed Waheed Hassan mediated and obtained assurances Wednesday from candidates that they will approve the voters' register. He later negotiated with the Elections Commission to move up the runoff, which was originally scheduled for Nov. 16, because the constitution requires an elected president to be in office by Nov. 11 when Hassan's term ends and a constitutional crisis could result otherwise.
Some 240,000 people were eligible to vote in the predominantly Muslim nation and despite a slow start the turnout was about 86 percent by the time polls closed.
Not holding a runoff Sunday could set off another political standoff after the Supreme Court on Saturday reiterated its previous ruling that Hassan will stay in office until a runoff election is held if no clear winner emerged from the first round. There is deep mistrust between Nasheed, Hassan and the Supreme Court because the former president believes the other two are under the influence of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom himself.
Delays to the election brought international pressure, with the United States and Britain warning that Maldives' reputation and the economy could suffer. The country is heavily reliant on tourism, which contributed 27 percent to the gross domestic product in 2012.
The Maldives, which is known for its luxurious resorts, has faced much upheaval in the five years it has been a multiparty democracy. Society and even families have been divided along party lines, and institutions like the judiciary, public service, armed forces and police have worked in different directions and been accused of political bias.
Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the country's first multiparty election in 2008, ending his 30-year autocratic rule. But Nasheed resigned last year after weeks of public protests and signs of declining support from the military and police after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge he perceived to be biased. His opponents also accused him of undermining Islam because of his friendly relations with Israel and Western nations.
Nasheed claimed that he was ousted in a coup and accused his then-deputy Hassan of backing it. An inquiry commission set aside his claim of a coup but the country has since been in political turmoil.
The next president must form a credible government, build up public confidence in government institutions and deal with pressing issues including high unemployment, increasing drug addiction among young people and improving transportation among the far-off islands.