The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives goes to the polls on Saturday for a presidential election that will test its young democracy 18 months after a violent change in leadership. The outcome and conduct of the election also has regional repercussions, with the sea-faring nation becoming a new area of competition between India and China. Recently, a high-level team of Indian observers left for Maldives to monitor the poll process and meet representatives of political parties. The team, which includes former chief election commissioners JM Lyngdoh, BB Tandon and N Gopalaswami and former Indian High Commissioner to Maldives SM Gavai, will visit polling stations spread across different islands. “India is committed to strengthening the institutions of democracy in the Maldives. In this context, the Election Commission of India is working closely with the Elections Commission of Maldives to further strengthen its capacity,” said a statement from the Indian High Commission here. “India is also arranging for the training of Maldivian Judges in India and working closely with the Majlis (parliament),” it said.
In February 2012, political unrest in Maldives briefly threatened the country’s vital tourism sector, which draws a million well-heeled visitors a year, following the ousting of former president Mohamed Nasheed.
Nasheed, a scuba-diving former democracy activist, won the Maldives’ first free vote in 2008, but resigned last year after a mutiny by police officers.
The 46-year-old denounced it as a coup, saying he was forced to step down at gunpoint, and accused then vice-president Mohamed Waheed of conspiring with former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to replace him.
Waheed’s ascent to the presidency sparked months of protests and violent clashes, meaning observers — particularly regional power India — are anxious for a clear and uncontested result on Saturday.