Maldives' election chief sacked after vote chaos

MALE, Maldives (AFP) - The Supreme Court in the Maldives has sacked the elections chief and handed him a suspended jail term after he criticised judges during last year's chaotic contest to choose a president.

Less than a fortnight before parliamentary elections are due, Chief Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek and his deputy Ahmed Fayaz were dismissed for "disobeying and challenging" orders issued by the court in its role as "guardian of the constitution", the private Minivan News website said.

Thowfeek was given a six-month prison sentence, which was suspended for three years, in a verdict issued late on Sunday.

The ruling has reopened the controversy over last year's election on the honeymoon islands when judges annulled the results of a first round won by former president Mohamed Nasheed, and then cancelled two other polls at the last minute.

Nasheed eventually lost the elections to the half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former strongman who ruled the Indian Ocean archipelago for 30 years.

Gayoom appointed most of the current judiciary before being defeated by Nasheed in the islands' first democratic polls in 2008 and foreign diplomats regarded the delays last year as a politically-motivated ploy to prevent Nasheed's return to power.

Thowfeek told Minivan he had been punished for discussing the "practical difficulties" of following court guidelines and doubted whether the March 22 legislative elections could take place as scheduled given the removal of the main organisers.

The Maldives, better known for its upmarket tourism, had been hit by political instability since Nasheed was forced to step down in February 2012 in what he says was a military-backed coup orchestrated by Gayoom loyalists.

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