Maldives poll frontrunner says president should resign

MALE Sun Oct 20, 2013 3:40pm EDT

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted as president in 2012, speaks during a news conference in Male, October 20, 2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted as president in 2012, speaks during a news conference in Male, October 20, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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MALE (Reuters) - The frontrunner in the Maldives presidential elections called for the current leader to resign on Sunday, a day after the vote was halted by police.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted by police, military forces and armed demonstrators in February 2012, looked set to win back the presidency on Saturday after another vote in September was annulled over allegations of fraud.

However, some candidates had still not signed a new voter register and hours before the polls were due to open police surrounded the Elections Commission forcing a delay that was condemned by the international community.

The Indian Ocean archipelago has seen months of violence and political unrest since Nasheed was forced out and may face a constitutional crisis if it is unable to elect a president by November 11 when current President Mohamed Waheed's term ends.

Waheed, who was Nasheed's vice president and took power when he was ousted, has proposed another vote on November 2 and says he will stay in power until his term finishes to make sure the elections are fair.

It is not clear who will be in charge of the country's day-to-day actions if no leader is elected.

Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008, said it was impossible to have an election with Waheed as president, Mohamed Nazim as Defence Minister, and Abdulla Riyaz as the Commissioner of Police.

"We believe that the only prudent way forward, and possible solution for the situation, is for Waheed to resign today and the Speaker of Parliament to take over government until November 11, or before the election," Nasheed told reporters on Sunday.

"It has become very evident that they've obstructed these polls, and very evident that the game they are trying to play, to take this country into and unconstitutional void, and then capture long term, unelected military power."

Imad Masood, a presidential spokesman said Waheed will stay on in the office during his term and "do everything to workout a mutually acceptable compromise" to hold free and fair elections.

Masood said a tentative date of November 2 has been agreed with Nasheed's two rivals to hold the polls.

Nasheed's main election rival is Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years and was considered a dictator by opponents and rights groups. Holiday resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who was finance minister under Gayoom, was also running.

Nasheed looked set to return to office when he won the first round of an election on September 7, putting him in a good position to win a run-off vote set for September 28.

But that election was canceled by the Supreme Court which cited fraud. International observers had said the election was free and fair. The court later ordered a fresh election by October 20 and a run-off by Nov 3, if required.

Police said on Saturday they could not support an election held "in contravention of the Supreme Court verdict and guidelines". Police Chief Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz said he had acted due to concern about "any unrest that may occur in the country as a result of letting the election proceed".

Nasheed has called for blocking of all streets in Male and bring the densely-populated island and the capital of the archipelago to a standstill after the delay in the polls.

His supporters have started sit-in protests in the two main junctions on Saturday blocking other streets with ropes, human chains, motorbikes and trucks forcing security forces to cordoned off part of Male that included the president's office and the Supreme Court.

Nasheed's supporters have staged protests since he was ousted, and masked men this month fire-bombed a television station that backs Nasheed, who came to international prominence in 2009 after holding a cabinet meeting underwater in scuba gear to highlight the threat of climate change.

Issues the new president will face include a rise in Islamist ideology, human rights abuses and a lack of investor confidence after Waheed's government canceled the biggest foreign investment project, with India's GMR Infrastructure.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Shihar Aneez; editing by Anna Willard)

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