Opposition-backed candidates do well in Maldives
COLOMBO: Two opposition-backed candidates have secured the top slots in the tsunami-stricken Maldives parliamentary election, according to provisional results released on Sunday.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), based in nearby Sri Lanka, endorsed the two candidates in November 2003 and according to the provisional results, both of them, Ibrahim Ismail and Mohamed Shihab, secured the bulk of the votes.
But the opposition and observers have dismissed the election as a sham, saying a crackdown on President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s opponents in the months leading up to the poll crippled their campaign. Some clashes were reported on Election Day.
Political parties are illegal in the Maldives but dissidents exiled in nearby Sri Lanka have endorsed 30 of the candidates running as independents. Key candidates were jailed or placed under house arrest last year.
The election was postponed from Dec 31, days after the tsunami crashed into many of the country’s 1,200 idyllic coral islands, killing 82 people and destroying resorts famed for their white-sand beaches and some of the world’s best scuba diving.
All 149 candidates who contested the archipelago’s 199 inhabited islands did so as independents for 42 parliamentary seats. Eight seats are filled by presidential appointees.
Ibrahim Ismail spent months in jail and under house arrest last year and Mohamed Shihab was interrogated by authorities on a couple of occasions. The two won in the capital, Male, where most of the country’s 157,000 eligible voters live.
The government said the result was evidence of a fair vote. “This is a clear indication that the election was free and fair. There was no vote tampering or any other irregularities,” said government spokesman Ahmed Shaheed.
Prior to the election on Saturday, the MDP was counting on doubling the number of pro-reform members in parliament, where presidential appointees fill eight seats.
Gayoom has promised amendments to the constitution including one that would change the way the president is elected. Now, a single candidate chosen by parliament seeks the endorsement of voters, a system that has helped Gayoom - Asia’s longest serving ruler — keep power for 26 years.
The population of the Maldives archipelago is about 280,000 people. reuters