MALE, Maldives – Two months of political bickering had pushed Maldives voters into the background. But finally they will have their say Saturday when they choose a new president for their vulnerable new democracy.
Two attempts at holding the presidential election since September failed with questions over the accuracy of the voters' list prepared by the Elections Commission. The chaos left voters isolated and divided, and their country's budding democracy was under threat.
Mohammed Sujuan said he is "definitely voting" on Saturday. "Even if the voting is cancelled again...It is my right," said the 21-year-old entertainer. He said he would vote for former President Mohamed Nasheed, the country's first democratically elected leader who controversially resigned last year.
"He is the only person with democratic values in this country," Sujuan said. "Imagine how much we have been suffering in the last two years after his government was brought down by a coup."
Nasheed resigned midway through his term after public protests and sliding support from the military and police over his order to arrest a senior judge he perceived as corrupt and biased. An inquiry put aside his claim of a coup, but the country has since been in political turmoil.
Nasheed is favored in the election, with his main rivals being Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, a brother of the 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, who challenged the September election in court. If no one gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff is scheduled Sunday because the constitution requires an elected president to be in office by Nov. 11. Some 240,000 people are eligible to vote.
Siyana Mohamed, a 31-year-old government worker, said she will not vote because she is disgusted with politics and politicians.
"There is no one who wants to serve for the betterment of the nation," she said. "I hope that a new breed of young politicians will emerge to substitute the current politicians.
"The three candidates are out to seek power at any cost and we, the ordinary citizens are suffering," she said.
Observers had regarded the Sept. 7 election as largely free and fair, but the Supreme Court annulled the results because it found the voters' register included fake names and those of dead people. Police stopped a second attempt because all candidates had not endorsed the voters' list as mandated by the Supreme Court.
Maldives, a popular tourist destination in the Indian Ocean known for its luxurious resorts, has faced much upheaval in the five years it has been a multiparty democracy after ending 30 years of autocratic rule in 2008. Society and even families have been divided sharply along party lines, and institutions like the judiciary, public service, armed forces and police have worked in different directions and been accused of political bias.
Delays to the election brought international pressure, with the United States and Britain warning that Maldives' reputation and the economy could suffer. The country is heavily reliant on tourism, which contributed 27 percent to the gross domestic product in 2012.
The next president must form a credible government, build up public confidence in government institutions and deal with pressing issues including high unemployment, increasing drug addiction among young people and improving transportation among the far-off islands.