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Tourism, the Maldives’ lifeblood, threatens to shut down over election

Result of the first round was overturned by the country’s Supreme Court after it was challenged by third-placed candidate
  • @oliver_wright

The scuba dive tanks will stay empty, the pool towels unchanged, and there will be nobody on hand to mix a cocktail.

British tourists who have booked luxury holidays to the Maldives are facing the prospect of travel misery after an announcement by thousands of hotel workers that they are preparing for an unprecedented and indefinite strike.

The planned walkout, by up to 5,000 waiters, cleaners, receptionists and cooks on the islands’ resorts, is in response to an appeal by the country’s first democratically elected president, who was overthrown in a coup last year.

President Mohamed Nasheed had been widely expected to win elections due to be held tomorrow, after taking almost 50 per cent of the vote in the first round of polling earlier this month.

But the result of the first round was overturned by the country’s Supreme Court after it was challenged by the third-placed candidate, Qasim Ibrahim, one of the country’s richest businessmen, who has close links with the former dictator.

The European Union and the Commonwealth have called on the Maldives to go ahead with the vote. Yesterday the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives said its members would take “prolonged” strike action at resorts across the Maldives until the second round of voting was completed.

In a statement, it said the Supreme Court order “destroys the principles of democracy and voids articles of the constitution” and must be resisted. “Given that a majority of our members desire the second round of elections to be held on September 28, we call on the Supreme Court to uphold the constitution, to aid the election and not to hamper it,” they stated.

“We would like to inform the relevant authorities that if this does not happen we will not hesitate to hold a prolonged strike to strengthen democracy and uphold human rights.”

The Maldives Association for Tourism Industries warned of “irreparable consequences” of such a strike to the Maldives – which earns about 70 per cent of its GDP from tourism.

“It is absolutely important to expedite the election and settle the issue, or else there would be irreparable consequences to the Maldives, and especially to tourism which is the back bone of the economy,” said its chairman, M.U. Manik. “It is important for everyone to see the importance of this in the interest of the country at large.” 

More than 100,000 Britons visit the Maldives every year – the second largest number of visitors from any country, and there are fears that any strike by hotel workers – who tend to be strong supporter of Mr Nasheed’s party, the MDP – could cause long-term damage to the economy.

Mr Nasheed, who was elected in 2008 after decades of dictatorship, was removed from office last year in what his supporters said was a coup organised by the former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

After sustained international pressure, fresh elections were called for this year. In the first round of the poll, held earlier this month, Mr Nasheed won 45 per cent of the vote.