The Maldive Supreme Court has yet again postponed a presidential run-off. Experts say the desire of second and third ranking candidates to come to power "either by hook or by crook" is derailing the electoral process.
It was expected to be the third and last attempt to elect a president without triggering a constitutional crisis. However, internal political divisions in the Indian Ocean archipelago have once again led to a postponement of the vote.
In the November 9 vote, Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who had been elected president in the country's first-ever multi-party elections in 2008, won 46.93 percent of the vote while his main opponent Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) got 29.72 percent. Millionaire businessman and a former finance minister, Gasim Ibrahim, came third with 23.34 percent. Voter turnout was high at around 86 percent.
But as no candidate secured an outright absolute majority of more than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff between the top two contestants was supposed to be held on Sunday, November 10. However, after one of the candidates filed a petition arguing there was little time to campaign or form alliances, the country's Supreme Court suspended the run-off until November 16.
The ruling has left the nation facing a political crisis because the Maldive constitution stipulates that an elected leader must be in office by November 11, when the incumbent president Mohamed Waheed Hassan's term expires.
But Waheed announced late Sunday that he will remain in power for another week, until his successor takes over the reins, as directed by the court. It is reported that hundreds of people took to the streets on Monday to protest against the decision of the outgoing president to stay on.
Third time in two months
It is the third time in the past two months that the presidential election process has been blocked. In the first poll on September 7, Nasheed emerged as the winner with 45 percent of the vote. A run-off, which had been planned to take place three weeks later, was cancelled by the country's Supreme Court.
The court also declared the first round results null and void, saying that the voter register rolls were flawed, containing fake names and dead people. The country's Election Commission, however, dismissed those claims and international monitors declared the poll largely free and fair.
The rulings of the Supreme Court have also evoked international criticism. Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed her deep concern recently saying that the Supreme Court of the Maldives was "interfering excessively in the presidential elections, and in so doing [was] subverting the democratic process and violating the right of Maldivians to freely elect their representatives."
Another attempt to hold the vote on October 19 had been stopped by the police, saying that the officials had not complied with the guidelines issued by the court.
Roots of the political crisis
Anand Kumar, an associate fellow and South Asia expert at the New-Delhi based Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, says the first attempts to hold the presidential elections failed because it "became clear which way the wind was blowing and who is going to win, at which point, courts were used to scuttle the electoral process."
The origins of the current political stalemate date back to Nasheed's ouster in 2012. Dr. S. Chandrasekharan, director of the India-based think tank South Asia Analysis Group (SAAG), explained that what happened in the Maldives was an "Arab spring in reverse, where a popular president was toppled by a handful of recalcitrant and retired army and police personnel with active support from other extremists and loyalists of former president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled the country for thirty years from 1978 to 2008."
Although Nasheed and his supporters alleged that he had been overthrown by the country's armed forces, a Commonwealth-backed Commission of Inquiry that was later set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the transfer of power concluded that it did not constitute a "coup d'etat."
There has been an increased polarization in the country ever since. Chandrasekharan believes Maldivian democracy has been "taking a blow with growing disconnect between the three arms of the country – the executive (the police mainly), the legislature (the majlis) and the judiciary."
Severe economic impact
Experts believe a prolonged political deadlock would prove disastrous for the country, which is already facing severe economic challenges. The economy of the South Asian nation, which is made up of 1,192 islands and is better known for its beaches and holiday resorts, is heavily reliant on tourism, which accounted for a third of its annual GDP in 2012, according to World travel and tourism council.
"A protracted crisis might lead to law and order problems and many of the western tourists, who bring a lot of money into the country, may shy away from this place damaging the tourism industry," Chandrasekharan told DW, adding that more international pressure had to be exerted on the government in the capital, Male, to observe international democratic norms.
Analyst Kumar says the desire of second and third ranking candidates to come to power "either by hook or by crook" and using the state institutions to achieve their political goals is derailing the electoral process. "The losing candidates should accept defeat with grace and honor people's choice."