Maldives crisis fears deepen despite poll announcement

MALE (AFP) - The Maldives on Tuesday faced the prospect of a constitutional crisis after one of the main political parties warned it may not endorse plans to restage aborted elections next month.

Following an international backlash over the last-minute cancellation of an election scheduled for last weekend, the Elections Commission announced late on Monday that a new poll would be held on Nov 9.

Commission chairman Fuwad Thowfeek also said in a post on Twitter that a run-off would take place on Nov 16 if no candidate won more then 50 per cent of votes.

Although supporters of the frontrunner Mohamed Nasheed welcomed the announcement, a key ally of his rival Abdullah Yameen branded the commission as "arrogant".

Youth Minister Mohamed Shareef also said the commission had failed to address doubts about the electoral roll that helped scupper the weekend vote.

"We are certainly heading for a constitutional crisis. I don't know what will happen at that stage," said Mr Shareef, a senior member of Mr Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives.

"From day one, we have supported the election, but the problem is the question of transparency," Mr Shareef told AFP.

In particular, Mr Shareef said he was worried about the security of the computer system which had compiled the list of around 240,000 voters who should determine the fate of a country best known as a honeymoon destination.

"We have to be assured about security of the server. If someone manipulates a few thousand votes, it can have a big impact in a small country like ours," he said.

"If the Elections Commission wants to, these issues can be sorted out in a couple of days. But they are arrogant. If the guidelines of the Supreme Court are not honoured, we can't support the election." Mr Yameen, who is the half-brother of the Maldives' long-time leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was a distant second to Mr Nasheed in a first round of voting held across the Indian Ocean archipelago on Sept 7.

But the Supreme Court annulled that result earlier this month following allegations of irregularities in the voter lists, even though foreign monitors gave the polls their approval.

By stipulating that all candidates must approve the voter lists, the court effectively gave Mr Nasheed's challengers carte blanche to block a future vote which they were sure to lose.

And when neither Mr Yameen nor the third candidate refused to endorse the voter roll, police declared last weekend's vote illegal despite the protests of the Elections Commission.