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Maldives run-off vote postponed, constitutional crisis looms

The Maldives’ top court has delayed a presidential run-off vote just hours before the polls were due to open. Its ruling came after none of the candidates won the 50 percent or more needed to win outright.

The Supreme Court of the Maldives handed down its ruling just hours before the poll stations were set to open on Sunda. Instead, the court ordered that the run-off be postponed until next Saturday.

"All relevant state authorities are informed that today's election cannot take place," the Supreme Court said in its pre-dawn ruling.

The decision came as a result of a petition filed by the party of the candidate who finished third in Saturday's first round of voting, businessman Qasim Ibrahim. His Jumhoory Party argued that Sunday's scheduled second round gave him insufficient time to advise his supporters on which of the two candidates to vote for.

The run-off had originally been scheduled for Saturday, November 16 to begin with, but it was moved to this Sunday on the behest of current President Mohamed Waheed Hassan in an effort to avoid a looming constitutional crisis.

The outgoing president's term ends on Monday, and the Maldives' constitution requires that a successor be elected before he leaves office. It wasn't immediately clear how this dilemma could be resolved.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed (pictured above) won Saturday's first round vote by a wide margin, but failed to secure the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Nasheed, who was ousted from power last year, received 46 percent of the vote, while his main opponent Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, trailed with 30 percent of the ballots. They are to face each other in the run-off.

Third attempt

Saturday's election was the third time the people of the Maldives have gone to the polls in an attempt to elect a new president in as many months. Nasheed won the original election on September 7, but the result was annulled by the Supreme Court, after dead people and children were found on voting registers.

The election was then rescheduled for October 20. But the rerun was stopped by police, after Nasheed's two opponents refused to sign off on voter lists, as required by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of the September 7 irregularities.

pfd/mr,ipj (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)