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Ex-political prisoner defeats the longest reigning Asian leader

Ex-political prisoner defeats the longest reigning Asian leader
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First Published: Wed, Oct 29 2008. 10 51 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Oct 29 2008. 10 51 PM IST
Male: The Maldives’ 30-year incumbent president on Wednesday lost to a former political activist he repeatedly threw in jail during years of crusading for democracy on the tropical Indian Ocean archipelago.
Also See Maldives’ Rocky Road To Political Reform (Graphic)
With all 179,343 votes counted, Mohamed Nasheed had 54.2% against 45.8% for Asia’s longest serving leader, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, election commissioner Mohamed Ibrahim said, citing provisional figures.
“I’d like to extend congratulations to Mohamed Nasheed on behalf of the electoral commission. Mohamed Nasheed is the winner of the second round,” Ibrahim told reporters. A formal announcement is due within seven days.
Nasheed’s victory in the nation’s first multi-party elections caps a remarkable journey for an activist whose criticism of Gayoom and crusading for democracy saw him charged 27 times and jailed or banished to remote atolls for a total of six years.
Neither Nasheed nor Gayoom could be reached for comment. Gayoom has promised to hand power over peacefully.
Nasheed was at the fore of the campaign for democracy, including during the 2004 protests that prompted a brutal crackdown by security forces and drew international criticism—and attention—to the hideaway islands.
Gayoom, 71, won the 9-10 October first-round election, but did not get the 50% needed to avoid a run-off. Nasheed was second, but this time had the backing of the four other contenders.
It is the first time Gayoom faced opposition at the polls since being elected first in 1978. In each of his six previous votes, he stood alone for a yes-no nod from voters and said he was re-elected by more than 90% each time.
This time, 86% of the Maldives’ more than 209,000 registered voters cast their ballots.
Gayoom is widely credited with overseeing the Maldives’ transformation from a fishing-based economy to a tourism powerhouse with South Asia’s highest per capita income. But Nasheed argued that only a small clique around Gayoom grew rich amid corruption in his government.
Whoever wins will take over an economy that gets 28% of its gross domestic product from tourism but which is under the International Monetary Fund’s pressure to ease debts and trim a huge government payroll. Tourism is expected to suffer from the global financial crisis.
It also faces high child malnutrition, growing Islamic extremism and a major heroin problem.
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First Published: Wed, Oct 29 2008. 10 51 PM IST