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Run-off presidential poll ends in Maldives

Voters in the Maldives inundated polling stations Saturday to choose a new president. Those queing were hopeful the run-off election will resolve a political crisis that has threatened the country for the past two years.

Organizers of the Maldives third presidential election said they hoped to name the winning candidate of the run-off election as early as Sunday.

Chief Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek announced on national television “everyone is highly anticipating the time when a new president is elected. And so, we are trying to announce the permanent results by very early tomorrow [Sunday] morning.”

Polling ended without any major incidents, a spokesperson for the Election Commissioner's office said. Adding, there were “a few complaints of paying voters to gain their support.”

Voter turnout was estimated to be over 75 percent.

The run-off vote took place after intense international pressure to vote in a new head of government and put an end to the months of political unrest that has plagued the country.

“Today is absolutely critical for democracy and the future of our country,” 48-year-old voter Fareesha Abdulla told the Reuters news agency.

“It will determine whether we become a democracy or a dictatorship.”

Three prior attempts to elect a new leader have been annulled or postponed in as many months, while favored presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed and the government clashed with rival groups who are backed by the Supreme Court.

Saturday's election saw Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leader Nasheed pitted against Abdullah Yameen, of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed, a former human rights campaigner, was elected president in 2008 in the country's first free election. He was pressured to resign 21 months ago amid demonstrations and a mutiny by security forces.

Nasheed alleged at the time that the coup had been engineered by his political rival Mohamed Waheed, as well as the country's former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Abdullah Yameen is the half brother of Gayoom.

Waheed, whose term of office officially ended on November 11, has remained in power since then, ostensibly to fill the constitutional void after a series of delays in the voting process.

Punctuated voting process

In the first round of the current voting cycle, which took place last Saturday, Yameen won only 30 percent of the vote while Nasheed clinched 47 percent, just short of a majority.

Nasheed, a former political prisoner, won a previous first round of voting on September 7, only for the poll result to be declared void by the country's Supreme Court.

Two later poll attempts were cancelled by the Supreme Court, which is largely made up of judges who were appointed during Gayoom's three decades at the helm of the Indian Ocean archipelago.

The annulment and cancellations were criticized internationally, with the EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issuing a warning against continuing uncertainty and “a drift towards autocratic rule.” Ashton said that Brussels would consider appropriate measures, should the delay continue.

jlw,rc/hc (dpa, AFP, Reuters)