Voting begins in Maldives parliamentary polls


17 MALE, Maldives, March 23 – Parliamentary elections got under way in the Maldives Saturday despite the island nation’s new president expressing doubts over whether the vote can be conducted, officials said.

An ally of President Abdulla Yameen had petitioned the Supreme Court on Thursday seeking a delay of Saturday’s polls, arguing that a depleted Elections Commission may not be able to conduct the vote.

But with no court decision announced, “the election is going ahead as scheduled”, Elections Commission official Aishath Reema told AFP.

Polls opened at 8:00 am (0300 GMT). “Balloting will be conducted over an eight hour period across the country,” Reema said.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party is the front-runner, but observers were doubtful if any single party will be able to take the assembly.

The head of the Elections Commission and his deputy were both sacked on March 9 for “disobeying” a Supreme Court order to adjourn part of last year’s presidential election which was eventually won in November by Yameen.

Yameen questioned whether the commission now had the ability to conduct a free and fair poll for the 85-seat parliament given that two of its five positions were now vacant.

“The commission barely meets the quorum (of three) to hold an election of such importance,” Yameen told a rally in the capital Male on Thursday night.

A total of 302 candidates are contesting the 85 seats in parliament which has legislative responsibilities, but the executive president who is directly elected by the people has wide powers in the country of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.

The sacking of two top election officials nearly two weeks ago has reopened the controversy over last year’s presidential election when the Supreme Court annulled the results of a first round won by Nasheed, and then cancelled two other polls at the last minute.

Yameen won the November 16 presidential run off, five years after the island nation introduced multi-party democracy.

Western nations as well as neighbouring India have said they were closely following developments in a country where recent political unrest has dented its image as a honeymoon paradise for tourists.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for peaceful and credible elections.

(Copyright @ (AFP) /RSS)