MALE, Maldives (AP) — Voters in the Maldives cast their ballots Saturday in a presidential runoff that was held amid international concerns that the tiny archipelago nation may slip back to strongman rule after long delays in the election.
The runoff was contested between the country's first democratically elected leader and the brother of a longtime autocrat. The results are expected early Sunday.
Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in the country's first multiparty polls in 2008, is favored to win after receiving nearly 47 percent of the vote in the first round on Nov. 9. His failure to get at least 50 percent for an outright win required a runoff against Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, a brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Yaamin received 30 percent of the first-round votes and is courting the support of the third-placed candidate, tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, who received 23 percent.
The Maldives is under scrutiny after failing to elect a president in three attempts since September and after incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan extended his term in office by six days, purportedly to avoid a constitutional void because the country is past the legal deadline to elect a new president.
"I always support Nasheed for his democratic values and work ethic. That's why I voted for him," said Mohamed Shafraz, a 23-year-old student.
Mohamed Rasheed, an electrician, said he voted for Yaamin because he has proven himself as a good manager of the economy. Yaamin has been part of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's administration.
The Supreme Court annulled results of a Sept. 7 election because it found that the voters' registry contained fake names and those of dead people.
Police stopped a second attempt at holding the election because all the candidates did not accept a new voters' list as the court had mandated.
The court intervened again to change the runoff election date, which had been set for the day after the Nov. 9 vote. It also ordered Hassan to continue in office despite the official end of his term on Nov. 11.
The European Union warned that the country might slip back to autocratic rule and said it is considering "appropriate measures" if the Maldives failed to elect a new president Saturday. It said further delays would be seen as attempts to prevent Maldivians from exercising their democratic rights.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said earlier in the week that Hassan's decision to stay beyond his term endangered the people's right to elect a new leader and called for the election to be concluded soon.
The Maldives has seen much upheaval in the five years since its first multiparty election. There has been conflict between the judiciary, Parliament and the presidency, which often worked in different directions. The judiciary and bureaucracy were often accused of being loyal to Gayoom, the former autocratic ruler.
Nasheed was elected in 2008, but resigned midway through his term last year after weeks of public protests and declining support from the military and police over his decision to detain a senior judge whom he perceived to be biased. He later said he was ousted in a coup, but an inquiry commission rejected the allegation.
The Maldives is a predominantly Muslim nation of 350,000 people. About 240,000 were eligible to vote Saturday.