Maldivian nationals in Kerala cast vote in their presidential elections

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 8: Maldivian nationals in India cast their votes at the Maldives Consulate in Thiruvananthapuram for the presidential elections in the Indian Ocean island nation on Wednesday. The Maldives is holding its first multi-party presidential election, in a vote seen as a referendum on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's 30 year-rule over the islands famed for their luxury resorts.

Around 1141 voters are registered at the Thiruvanathapuram Maldives consulate. Polling started at 9:00 a.m. and it will continue up to 8:00 p.m. this evening.

Ahmed Salim, a Maldivian Election Commission official, said they are keeping a track of the election in Maldives through news updates on television and radio channels. He said that the percentage of votes cast and other details would be known from Maldivian capital Malay.

"The amount of voting will be announced from the Malay," said Ahmed. Gayoom, Asia's longest-serving leader, is seeking a seventh term in the archipelago of 300,000 people mostly Sunni Muslims, which he has been accused of ruling like a personal sultanate -- a form of government abolished there in 1968.

The poll in the sleepy Maldives, best known as a tropical luxury hideaway for Hollywood stars, is the culmination of years of agitation for democratic reforms which Gayoom, 71, finally signed into law in August establishing an independent judiciary and electoral body.

It also abolished the old style of voting for a president, where a parliament-approved candidate stood in a referendum. Those elections saw Gayoom returned to power six times with what he claims was over 90 per cent of the vote.

Despite some fears of rigging and minor threats against political figures earlier this week, the archipelago of 1,196 islands located 800 km off the tip of India was mostly calm after campaigns finished on Tuesday night.

Nearly 400 polling stations have been set up across the archipelago's 200 inhabited atolls and on some islands with luxury resorts for the Wednesday's poll.

The electoral commission says 209,000 people have registered for voting.

Most Maldivians expect a runoff, with Gayoom and his longtime opposition nemesis Mohamed Nasheed tipped as favourites, and are sceptical the poll will proceed without bribery and vote-rigging.

A runoff date will be announced if no candidate gets 50 per cent of the vote. Gayoom on Tuesday promised to hand over power peacefully if he loses.

Nasheed, known as Ani, has been charged dozens of times by Gayoom's government in what human rights watchdogs say are trumped-up cases, the latest of which was dropped just last month after prosecutors admitted a lack of evidence.

Copyright Asian News International/