By Zaheena Rasheed
MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives on Wednesday chose July 2013 for a presidential election, spurning calls for early polls and risking more protests by supporters of former president Mohamed Nasheed, overthrown in what he calls a coup on the tropical atoll nation.
Current President Mohamed Waheed Hussain Manik, who served as vice president under Nasheed, says his predecessor resigned voluntarily after protests triggered by the arrest of a judge. He said July 2013 was the earliest polls could be held.
"President Waheed is fully committed to strengthening democratic processes in the Maldives and has called for elections in July 2013, the earliest date permitted under the constitution," his office said in a statement.
Nasheed says he was forced to resign at gunpoint on February 7 He calls the current government a "dictatorship" and has led mostly peaceful protests since his ouster.
"We need to have an election in 2012, if not, skewing of the playing field and entrenchment of the dictatorship will happen," he told Reuters in New Delhi.
"There will be conflict, there will be disturbances, there will be instability if we don't have an election," he said in an interview during a trip to seek stronger support for his cause from India, which recognizes the new government.
Political turmoil in the Maldives may affect its mainstay tourism industry that draws guests from around the world to remote resort locations that can cost several thousand dollars a day. It also sits on busy shipping lanes and has increasingly become a target for Somali pirates.
Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader, is backed by the Commonwealth group of mostly former British colonies, which on Monday threatened to suspend the Maldives if the vote is not brought forward.
(Reporting by Shihar Aneez in COLOMBO; Additional reporting and writing by Frank Jack Daniel)