The tourism-dependent Maldives heads for a run-off presidential election on September 28 between its ex-leader Mohammed Nasheed and Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of the archipelago's former autocrat ruler.
Maldives incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who came to power early last year during political unrest, finished last of four in Saturday's first-round presidential election.
In big queues across the Indian Ocean archipelago, some 211,000 of the Maldives' 240,000 eligible voters decided for a run-off late September between their ex-president Nasheed (pictured above) and Qayyoom.
Nasheed drew 45 percent of the vote, trailed by Qayyoom on 25 percent. Closely placed in third was tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, according to the archipelago's electoral commission.
Electoral commission head Fuad Thaufeeq told a press conference in Male, the capital, that voting on the whole had been "very calm and very peaceful." Monitoring the poll were hundreds of observers, including Commonwealth monitors.
Maldivians, who are mainly Muslim, picked Nasheed as president in 2008 - after three decades of rule under autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The country was previously a British protectorate after being a sultanate for nine centuries.
Early last year, Nasheed resigned on national television, claiming that security forces had threatened him and his family. Waheed, then vice-president, took over. The turmoil tarnished the archipelago's image as a tropical holiday paradise.
Run-off contestant concedes faults
Second-round contestant and half-brother Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom conceded after Saturday's vote that "things have gone wrong in the last four to five years."
"It is absolutely imperative that we change for the better this time," he said.
Analysts, including the editor of Maldives' leading newspaper Haveeru, Moosa Latheef, said the run-off on September 28 would be a close race for Nasheed, especially if Qayyoom attracted votes from the losing candidates.
Both Ibrahim and Waheed have been bitter critics of Nasheed, who while in office had challenged wealthy tourist resort operators by lobbying for budget guesthouses, social programs and increased taxes.
Although the Maldives draws one million holidaymakers each year, local residents face high unemployment, drug addiction among youth, and transport difficulties among its far-flung islands, southwest of India. The Maldives has 1.196 islands, but only 220 of them are inhabited.
ipj/tj (dpa, AP, AFP)