- POSTED: 24 Sep 2013 03:30
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The Supreme Court of the Maldives on Monday suspended presidential elections due this weekend following a legal challenge, sparking protests and fears of fresh instability in the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago.
MALE, Maldives: The Supreme Court of the Maldives on Monday suspended presidential elections due this weekend following a legal challenge, sparking protests and fears of fresh instability in the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago.
The directive came in response to a case filed by a political party demanding that the results of the first round on September 7 be annulled because of alleged discrepancies.
"We order the Elections Commission and other relevant state institutions to delay the second round of the presidential election scheduled for 28 September 2013 until the Supreme Court issues a verdict in this case," read the ruling from the Supreme Court.
The final round of voting on Saturday was seen as a test for the young democracy a year and a half after the violent ousting of the country's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed.
The court decision sparked protests by his supporters during which police pepper-sprayed Nasheed and beat and detained two MPs from his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), a member of Nasheed's security staff told AFP, asking not to be named.
Nasheed, 46, won the first round comfortably with 45.45 percent of the vote and faced a run-off contest on Saturday against Abdullah Yameen, the half-brother of the islands' former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
"The Supreme Court has gone against all common sense, international opinion and the majority of the country without any evidence to do so," an MP from Nasheed's party, Hamed Abdul Ghafoor, said.
Nasheed resigned in February last year after a mutiny by police that he branded a coup, allegedly orchestrated by Gayoom, who ruled the honeymoon islands for three decades.
The Election Commission confirmed to AFP that it had stopped all preparations for Saturday's vote in the country, home to about 350,000 Muslims spread across more than 1,000 coral-fringed islands.
Nasheed's opponents had raised concerns about the commission and the electoral rolls before and after the first vote, leading to fears of a contested result that would lead to more uncertainty.
Local and international observer groups found the first round of voting to be free and fair, but the third-placed Jumhooree Party filed a legal challenge to the results because of alleged fraud.
"It is standard practice anywhere to issue an order like this pending the investigation into our allegations of irregularities in the first round," senior Jumhooree leader Hassan Saeed told AFP.
US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged "all political parties to work together peacefully and ensure that the democratic process can continue in a way that respects the rule of law and that represents the will of the Maldivian people".
Last year's violent power change, which saw Nasheed replaced by his deputy Mohamed Waheed, hurt the local tourist industry and left a bitter legacy of distrust.
Nasheed, a former political prisoner and pro-democracy campaigner, has railed against the country's judiciary, which he views as being biased and intent on protecting the interests of Gayoom and a handful of tycoons who control the tourist industry.
His opponent in the second round, Yameen, told local newspaper Minivan News that there was "nothing unconstitutional" in the Supreme Court's order.
"The Elections Commission got the opportunity to argue out their case and establish the credibility of the process," he said.
Regional power India and the United Nations had called on the Maldives authorities to hold credible elections that would resolve the instability in the strategically located country.
Nasheed came to power in 2008 when he defeated Gayoom in the country's first free presidential elections.