MALE, Maldives (AP) — The first democratically elected president of the Maldives, who was ousted from power last year, faces a runoff after falling short of a clear majority in the first round of Indian Ocean archipelago's presidential election.
Mohamed Nasheed, who received 45 percent of the vote in Saturday's election contested by four candidates, could still face an uphill task in securing a simple majority because of a possible alliance among his three opponents in the second round of voting.
He faces a Sept. 28 runoff against Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of Maldives' former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who received 25 percent, according to results released by the Elections Commission on Sunday.
Nasheed needed to receive more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff. Businessman Qasim Ibrahim was a close third with 24 percent, while incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan ended with 5 percent.
Nasheed, who won the country's first multiparty election in 2008, ending 30 years of autocracy, resigned last year after weeks of public protests and slipping support from the military and police. He later said he was forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinying security forces and politicians backed by the country's former autocrat.
Though a domestic commission of inquiry dismissed Nasheed's claim, the country known for its luxurious beach resorts, has been in political turmoil ever since. Nasheed has repeatedly dismissed as illegal the government of his former vice president — current President Hassan.
Despite winning the most votes by a wide margin and ending relatively close to the 50 percent mark, Nasheed may still face a battle getting over the finish line because the third and fourth place finishers were also his bitter critics, and are likely to throw their support to Gayoom.
About 240,000 of the Maldives' 350,000 citizens were eligible to vote Saturday, and more than 211,000 voted, hoping to end the political instability and answer questions about their government's legitimacy.
"The ruling government came (to power) not in a very good manner," Ahmed Ilyas, a 37-year-old port employee, said after voting. "Hopefully, after the election the international community and the locals will fully cooperate with the government."
"We are hoping it (the government) will be stable instead of an interim one in which we don't know which way we are going," said Jameel, a young voter who would give only his first name.
Transparency Maldives, an independent election monitor said apart from minor complaints of violence the election was free and peaceful.
Whoever wins the second round will need to build public confidence in government institutions that are accused of political bias, such as the courts, police and military, and deal with pressing issues, including high unemployment, increasing drug addiction among young people and improving transportation among the nation's far-off islands in the Indian Ocean.
Nasheed's fall from power last year came after he ordered the military to arrest a senior judge whom he accused of bias.