The bitter battle over the future of the Maldives has intensified after the country’s former leader accused the current president of trying to indefinitely postpone elections and hang on to power at any cost.
Two days after police prevented a presidential poll from going ahead, Mohamed Nasheed said President Mohamed Waheed should step down and allow an election to be held under the supervision of parliament.
On Monday night, the office of Mr Waheed said a new vote had been scheduled for November 9. But earlier Mr Nasheed, a former political prisoner, said he doubted the authorities would allow a fair election to take place.
“I don’t think there is going to be an election any time soon,” Mr Nasheed told The Independent, speaking from Male. “They have had the election and they have had the result, and we won. They came to power in a coup and they will not leave.”
The archipelago island nation has been rocked by a series of crises since Mr Nasheed was forced from office in February 2012 in what he and his supporters say was a police-backed coup. Under international pressure, his successor, Mr Waheed, agreed to hold new elections.
The first round of those polls was held on September 7, with Mr Nasheed emerging with the highest number of votes and appearing well-placed for a run-off, due to have been held on September 28.
When the country’s court halted that run-off amid claims the original poll had not been fair, despite observers saying they believed it was legitimate, a fresh poll was fixed for Saturday. But on Saturday police prevented the poll from going ahead, claiming it was in breach of a court ruling.
Observers said that beneath the twists and turns lies a more fundamental battle over the future of the Maldives. Mr Nasheed was elected in 2008 in the country’s first independent election, defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former dictator who had ruled for 30 years.
Immediately upon securing office, he set about a series of reforms and raised the profile of the Maldives, particularly in relation to climate change and the danger posed by rising sea levels. Crucially, he sought to reform the judiciary, which he claimed was in the pocket of Mr Gayoom.
Mr Waheed’s term expires on November 11, the date by which the Supreme Court has said elections must be held. He has said he will stand down on November 11, regardless of whether an election has taken place.
But Mr Nasheed called on the president to stand down immediately. “I think he should resign and hand over to the parliament and the Speaker,” he said. “The Election Commission should have a free hand to conduct the election.”
Supporters of Mr Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party claim that Mr Gayoom is still influencing events from the sideline, an accusation the former dictator has denied.
But two political parties which had sought a postponement of Saturday’s votes, both have links to Mr Gayoom. The candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) is Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of the former dictator while the Jumhooree Party (JP) is headed by Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who once served as Mr Gayoom’s finance minister.
In what Mr Nasheed’s supporters said was an indication of the drift away from democracy, Mr Gasim on Monday called for a state of emergency to be called.
Best known for its white sand beaches and picture postcard islands by the 90,000 Britons who annually travel there for holidays, the Maldives is facing a struggle over its future direction. The conservative Muslim nation has limited experience with democracy and is confronting major economic and environmental challenges.
Mr Nasheed said the international community should put pressure on the government to proceed with an election as soon as possible. He also urged potential holiday-makers to be careful where they stayed.
“There are a number of resorts operate by those opposed to the polls,” he said. “We hope they would not choose a resort that is supporting the anti-democratic measures in the Maldives.”
Mr Waheed, the president, on Monday spoke to the nation in a televised address and told the media he would guarantee a free and fair poll. His spokesman, Masood Imad, dismissed Mr Nasheed’s claims and said the president would not remain after his term expires.
“The President has said he would not wish to stay in office after November 11,” said Mr Imad. “The President has no intention of not stepping down. Nasheed is a liar.”
There has been widespread international criticism of the delay in the election. Late on Monday evening, the Mr Waheed’s office said a new election date had now been fixed for November 9, with any run-off poll to held on November 16
One Western diplomat who asked not to be identified, said if a run-off was required it would take place after the expiration of Mr Waheed’s term. The diplomat said: “That takes us into slightly uncharted waters.”
Farah Faisal, a supporter of Mr Nasheed and who previously served as the Maldives’ ambassador to Britain before resigning in protest, said she worried that Mr Nasheed’s rivals would not allow voting to go ahead on November 9.
She said: “If you are staring defeat in the face why would you want to have an election?”