Maldives: Longtime President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will face five opponents in the Maldives’ first democratic presidential election next month, election officials said.
The election is the culmination of a four-year reform effort intended to fight corruption and bring democracy to the Indian Ocean archipelago known more as a tourist getaway than a hotbed of political activism.
Though most of the candidates have been known for several weeks, the Election Commission officially announced who would be on the 8October ballot late Sunday.
Gayoom, who has ruled the Sunni Muslim nation of nearly 1,200 mostly uninhabited islands for 30 years, hopes to capture a seventh consecutive term in office under a new constitution that has been hailed as an important reform step for the country.
His main challengers are expected to be Mohamed Nasheed, head of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, and former Attorney-General Hassan Saeed. A former foreign minister who is also a prominent businessman, an Islamic party candidate and the head of a small opposition party are also running.
“I think this is going to be a very transparent, free and fair election,” Gayoom said after the announcement. If no one wins an outright majority, there will be a runoff election between the two with the most votes.
Gayoom faced no opposition in previous elections because political parties were banned, and voters were only allowed to vote “yes” or “no.” He has been credited with turning a sleepy string of fishing islands off the southwestern tip of India into a major tourism destination and filling its coffers with hard currency.
But he has also been accused of ruling the country with an authoritarian grip, while drug abuse and Islamic radicalism have increased during his decades in power. Gayoom’s candidacy is being challenged in the Supreme Court under new laws that limit presidents to two terms. An Islamic party has also accused him of not being a Sunni Muslim, a prerequisite for the presidency.
Nasheed’s eligibility is also being challenged because of a 2001 theft conviction that was widely viewed as politically motivated.
The elections are the culmination of a reform movement that began in 2004 following mass street demonstrations over the death of a teenager at the hands of prison guards. Political parties were legalized in 2005 and a new constitution, ratified in August, limits the president’s powers and promises Maldivians new rights, including freedom of speech and assembly.