The Maldives Supreme Court postponed the country’s presidential runoff election indefinitely on Monday after the third-place finisher alleged irregularities, further widening the political dispute in this Indian Ocean archipelago known for its luxury island resorts.
The court’s decision was announced just four days before the election runoff, which was scheduled for September 28.
In its ruling, the court ordered the Government to postpone the elections until the court “decides in the case before it.”
The Jumhooree Party, which fielded as its candidate tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, filed the case last week, seeking an annulment of the result, saying the voter’s registry contained the names of dead or imaginary people.
The September 7 vote finished without a clear winner, and Ibrahim finished third, narrowly missing a place the runoff.
Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected President, won more than 45 percent of the vote but needed 50 percent to avoid the runoff. He was to face Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of the country’s former autocratic leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Soon after the court decision, members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party started street demonstrations demanding that the election be held as scheduled.
The United States, United Nations and the Commonwealth had all hailed the first round as free and fair.
The US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki in a statement urged all political parties in the Maldives work together to ensure democracy while the court hears the case.
The country has been in political turmoil since Nasheed resigned in 2012 after weeks of public protests and slipping support from the military and police. He later said he was forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinying security forces and politicians backed by the country’s former autocrat.
Though a domestic commission of inquiry threw out his claim, Nasheed has repeatedly dismissed as illegal the Government of incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, his former Vice President.
The Jumhooree Party last week alleged that there were voters younger than the legal voting age and that some names were repeated under different identification numbers.
The dispute showcases the challenges the young democracy faces, having held its first-ever multi-party election in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule.
An Election Commission spokesman last week denied the allegations of irregularities. Speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue is before the courts, he said the commission was confident that the election results will be held as valid.