* Abdulla Yameen beats favourite in victory for old guard
* Role of Islam central to election campaign
* Tourism in island paradise hit last year by turmoil
(Adds reaction, details, quotes)
By J.J. Robinson
MALE, Nov 16 Abdulla Yameen won the Maldives
presidential election run-off on Saturday, narrowly defeating
the favourite Mohamed Nasheed in a ballot that voters hoped
would end two years of political turmoil that has hit the vital
The crisis occasionally spilled over into violent protests
in the Indian Ocean holiday paradise after Nasheed, the
Maldives' first democratically elected president in 2008, was
forced to resign early last year in what he said was a coup.
Three previous attempts to hold the election were annulled
or delayed in as many months and, although Nasheed led the first
round a week ago, Yameen had the support of resort tycoon Gasim
Ibrahim, who was eliminated in that ballot.
Yameen's win, with a preliminary 51.6 percent of votes cast,
was a victory for the old guard. He is a half-brother of Maumoon
Abdul Gayoom, who ruled for 30 years and is considered a
dictator by rights groups and opponents. Gasim was also Gayoom's
Gasim said the outcome would reinforce the role of Islam in
the Muslim island state: "We joined you (Yameen) to save this
country, to maintain Islam in the country, and I thank Allah for
During a bitter election campaign, Yameen and his backers
accused Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) of
being too secular and close to the West.
Nasheed countered that his opponents had used religion
unfairly as a weapon, amid concerns that Islamist ideology was
beginning to take hold.
DICTATORSHIP OR DEMOCRACY?
After the ballot, a defiant Nasheed addressed hundreds of
MDP supporters and later told reporters he would carry on in
"We have the opportunity to show citizens how an opposition
party that is loyal to the state works. One thing we should not
contemplate (is) to overthrow the government by street action or
by direct action," the 46-year-old added.
"We must adhere to democratic principles. We have repeatedly
said, when you fall get up and run. When you lose, be courageous
and in victory, be magnanimous."
The Election Commission has yet to confirm the final vote
count from an electorate of around 240,000 people, and may not
do so until Sunday. But local observer group Transparency
Maldives said the election was "credible, transparent, and
Some Maldivians viewed the ballot as a choice between
dictatorship and democracy.
"This is the end of democracy in the Maldives," said Ismail
Hilath Rasheed, a human rights activist and blogger who has been
living in exile since he was stabbed by an Islamist last year.
"This is because of religious conservatism planted by Gayoom
But others focused on Yameen's earlier success in charge of
several state-run firms - experience that could help him win
back the confidence of investors.
"Yameen has experience running companies, so he will know
how to run the country better," voter Ahmed Abu Bakr, 27, said.
"Nasheed's better as an activist, so he can be the opposition."
Yameen must win over overseas companies after the government
cancelled the Maldives' biggest foreign investment project with
India's GMR Infrastructure.
High levels of debt and a lack of foreign currency reserves
also make the idyllic archipelago vulnerable to external
economic shocks. Tourism receipts contributed 38 percent of
government revenue last year.
(Additional reporting by Shihar Aneez in Colombo; Writing by
Mike Collett-White; Editing by Janet Lawrence)