After a promising start to the presidential elections in the Maldives, the fledgling democracy is floundering once again. The country’s Supreme Court has put on hold indefinitely a run-off that was scheduled for September 28 as it considers a petition by a candidate eliminated after the first round held earlier in the month. Mohammed Nasheed, who was ousted as President in controversial circumstances in February 2012, and is a candidate of the Maldivian Democratic Party, polled 45.45 per cent of the vote in the first round, while Abdulla Yaameen, a candidate of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives, was placed a distant second. Under the Maldivian Constitution, when no candidate wins more than 50 per cent votes, a run-off between the first two candidates must be held within three weeks. All poll processes have to be completed, and a new President named by October 10, one month before the constitutionally mandated day of assuming office, in this case November 11. More than 100 international observers stationed in the Maldives, including three of India’s former Chief Election Commissioners, commended the poll process and declared it to be free and fair. While the Supreme Court must address any grievances over the conduct of the polls, the delay in deciding the complaint of electoral fraud has given rise to speculation, rumours and political tension. It has also given room for doubts about the genuineness of the complaint.
The situation is especially delicate as the Constitution makes no provision for a scenario in which an election is interrupted and the office of the President cannot be filled by the deadline. The incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan can continue in office until then with full powers but there is bound to be uncertainty thereafter. Mr. Nasheed, who is expected to win the run-off if and when it is held, is understandably concerned. The former President believes Mr. Waheed, who was his Vice-President, was in the plot to remove him. The MDP’s other concern is that in these elections Mr. Waheed is on the side of the PPM candidate. Worried about the fall-out of any instability in the Indian Ocean nation, the international community, led by India, has urged that the elections be completed. Unless the Supreme Court quickly disposes of the case before it, resolving the complaint to the satisfaction of all parties to it, and directs the Elections Commission to complete polling in adherence to the provisions of the Constitution, the Maldives appears headed for another spell of instability.