Counting of votes begins in the Maldives

Staff Writer

The counting of votes has begun in the Maldives to choose a new president today in an election that tests the democratic credentials of an Indian Ocean island state known more for its luxury resorts than its recent political turmoil.
The vote could mark the return of Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected leader who came to power in 2008 after 30 years of one-man rule.
Mohammad Nasheed was ousted last year in circumstances his supporters say amounted to a coup. The polls are the Maldives’ third attempt to elect a new leader in as many months. A September 7 vote was annulled based on a secret police report which found vote rigging while an October poll was halted by police after a Supreme Court ruling.
The delay has drawn criticism from international observers, including the United States.
Flanked by eight bodyguards and a mob of reporters, Mohammad Nasheed voted at a polling station at a school in central Male.
Apart from Nasheed, Abdulla Yameen of the PPM and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim of JP are the main candidates in the presidential race.
The political crisis has hit tourism, a vital source of earnings, and the Maldives has faced fuel shortages because it is unable to pay suppliers on time amid dwindling foreign exchange reserves.Nasheed’s removal in February 2012 sparked protests by his supporters and a subsequent police crackdown.
A Commonwealth-backed commission of inquiry later concluded that his removal did not constitute a coup.