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Maldives electing new president after instability

A presidential election in the Maldives has drawn long queues of voters. Contesting the poll in the Indian Ocean archipelago are four candidates, including incumbent Mohamed Waheed and ousted predecessor Mohamed Nasheed.

The Maldives voted for a new president on Saturday after instability last year prompted tourists to avoid the "paradise" destination. Monitors include international observers from Commonwealth countries.

If none of the candidates scores more than 50 percent, a run-off is scheduled for September 28.

Waheed (pictured above, c.), 60, a former news anchor and ex-UN official, came to power in February 2012 when security forces mutinied, forcing the departure of Nasheed as Maldives first democratically elected president during a row over the arrest of a top judge.

At the time Waheed was vice-president. In Saturday's contest, he is seeking election to a full term on issues such as social protection for women and compulsory education for children.

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted as president in 2012, smiles as he casts his vote during the presidential elections in Male September 7, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Nasheed (l.) was forced to step down in 2012

The 46-year-old Nasheed, a keen scuba diver and advocate of social programs, grabbed world headlines on climate change in 2009 when he held a cabinet meeting under water.

The other candidates are resort tycoon Qasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen, a parliamentarian and the half-brother of former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for three decades until 2008.

Keeping watch

Transparency International, a Germany-based anti-corruption group, has organized more than 400 local volunteers to monitor the voting.

A spokesman for Transparency Maldives, Aiman Rasheed, said there were no serious incidents at the start of voting.

"We had a few issues regarding access [of] voters to polling booths, but that was resolved," Rasheed said.

Also present is a 17-member Commonwealth election group under the guidance of former Maltese prime minister Lawrence Gonzi.

The Maldives 2008 election drew a turnout of 85 percent. This time, 240,000 voters are registered to vote, including 66,000 abroad. Ballot boxes were due to be made available in the Maldivian diplomatic missions in India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia and London.

The Indian Ocean archipelago, comprising 1,192 scattered coral islands, rises to 2.4 meters above sea level at its highest point. Sea-level rise attributed to climate change has been a key election issue.

ipj/tj (dpa, AFP, AP)