Maldives tourism workers vow strike after court delays presidential vote

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 27, 2013 7:56 AM
Maldives tourism workers vow strike after court delays presidential vote

By J.J. Robinson

MALE (Reuters) - Tourism workers in the Maldives have threatened to go on strike if a run-off presidential poll in the up-market holiday destination is not held on Saturday as scheduled.

The threat will sharpen a confrontation between former president Mohammed Nasheed, who won the first round of voting on September 7, and the government of his successor, President Mohammed Waheed, which backs the delay, ordered by the Supreme Court.

The run-off had been expected to help end months of political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago triggered by Nasheed's removal from power 20 months ago.

"If the election is delayed, it will adversely affect our members, and we will not hesitate to hold a prolonged strike to strengthen democracy and uphold human rights," the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives said in a statement.

A strike in the tourism industry would cripple the islands' $2.2 billion economy, dependent on earnings of $1.9 billion from overseas visitors. Tourism receipts contributed 38 percent of government revenue last year.

The association, which claims the allegiance of 5,000 resort workers, was responding to a call by Nasheed, who served three years as the first democratically elected president, and his Maldivian Democratic Party, after the Supreme Court order.

In a special midnight session on Thursday, the Supreme Court urged security forces to act against anyone who did not obey its postponement order, after the country's election commissioner announced the September 28 election would go ahead.

The Election Commission, which has already brought in foreign monitors, will meet at 1100 GMT to decide on the Saturday runoff, its chief, Fuwad Thowfeek, told Reuters.

Nasheed secured 45.45 percent of votes in the first round, short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory. His party announced mass protests against the postponement.

"CONSTITUTIONAL VACUUM"

Party supporters have vowed to kick off protests from 1100 GMT if the poll is not held.

"I'm not sure what will happen, it will be anybody's guess," Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, spokesman of Nasheed's MDP, told Reuters.

"The Supreme Court will have called off the constitution and we will be in a constitutional vacuum. It will be another coup. The situation will be up for grabs - it will be the Wild West."

Although Nasheed's party controls parliament, the police have assured election officials they will obey the court ruling.

President Waheed's Interior Ministry has ordered tough action against anyone breaching the Supreme Court order and the Finance Ministry has declined to provide funds for the election.

Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of longtime ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, came second in the presidential poll, just ahead of Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who was Gayoom's finance minister.

Gasim's Jumhoory Party (JP) had asked the Supreme Court to annul the first-round result, alleging voting irregularities, a move that Nasheed's MDP dismissed as unconstitutional.

Critical challenges for the next president range from a surge in Islamist ideology and human rights abuses to a lack of investor confidence after the government cancelled the Maldives' biggest foreign investment project with India's GMR Infrastructure.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)