MALE : International pressure mounted on the Maldives on Wednesday to go ahead with a presidential run-off election due this weekend which the Supreme Court has suspended.
Canada, Australia and the European Union joined the Commonwealth, the US and other countries in calling on authorities to hold the vote on Saturday as previously scheduled. Ex-president Mohamed Nasheed is seen as the front-runner. Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird urged Maldivian judicial authorities “to not unduly delay the expression by Maldivians of their democratic will”, while Australia said it “hopes to see an early resumption of the electoral process”. Baird also condemned a reported pepper-spray attack on Nasheed during a protest following the Supreme Court’s suspension of the run-off on Monday night.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on the honeymoon island chain to push ahead with the run-off.
“I urge all Maldivians to work together to safeguard the integrity of the democratic process and ensure that the second round takes place in the same impartial and effective spirit as the first,” she said in a statement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday voiced concern over the delay, stressing it was “of the utmost importance” that the will of the people be respected.
“The people of the Maldives have exhibited great patience and should have the opportunity, without undue delay, to exercise their vote,” Ban said in a statement.
India, which sent election observers to the Maldives, said the court case has resulted in “uncertainty concerning the second round, which may have an impact on peace, stability and security in the country.”
It was important that the second round is held as scheduled, a external affairs ministry spokesman said.
The statements triggered a strong reaction from President Mohamed Waheed, who branded them “irresponsible” and urged the international community to halt speculation over the issue.
“I... call on foreign governments, the UN and the Commonwealth to show responsibility and to refrain from issuing statements commenting on, and speculating about, the ongoing court case,” Waheed said.
“Irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations would not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country.”
Waheed placed last in the September 7 first round with just over five percent of the popular vote.
The comments came as the court on Wednesday heard a petition by the third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim, who claimed electoral malpractice in the first round of voting.
Nasheed won the round with 45.45 percent. The vote was found to be credible and fair by domestic and international observers.
He called for nationwide “peaceful” protests on Monday and his Maldivian Democratic Party held a large rally in the capital Tuesday night, spokeswoman Shauna Aminath told AFP.
“About 5,000 people participated in the rally and it went off peacefully,” she said.
The polls are seen as a test for the Maldives’ young democracy 18 months after the violent ousting of Nasheed, who resigned in February last year following a mutiny by police.
Nasheed, a former pro-democracy campaigner, has railed against the country’s judiciary before. He sees it as biased and intent on protecting the interests of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and of a handful of tycoons who control the tourism industry.