Confusion over Maldives election as officials clash

The Maldives' Election Commission sparked confusion on Friday over whether elections originally scheduled for this weekend but suspended by the Supreme Court would go ahead on the troubled Indian Ocean archipelago.

The chief of the independent election body Fuad Thaufeeq told local media late Thursday that voting would take place in defiance of the Supreme Court order, which has been criticised by the international community.

But his deputy, as well as the commission's spokeswoman, denied to AFP any intention to hold the polls, indicating a schism had formed within a crucial institution in the young democracy.

"We will not go against the law," deputy elections chief Ahmed Fayaz told AFP. "We will not have elections on Saturday, unless the Supreme Court removes the suspension order."

He said they were merely going ahead with the preparations for Saturday's ballot in case the court changed its mind.

"Please be informed that still we are just continuing our preparations," Elections Commission spokeswoman Aishath Reema told AFP on Friday

The local Haveeru newspaper reported that the Supreme Court on Thursday night ordered troops to stop any moves to go ahead with the vote on Saturday.

The top court halted the election on Monday following a legal challenge, sparking protests, fears of fresh instability and expressions of concern from India, the United States and the European Union.

The candidate who placed third in the first round voting on September 7, wealthy businessman Qasim Ibrahim, demanded that the results be annulled over alleged discrepancies. The case is pending.

The vote was seen as a test for the democracy a year and a half after the violent ousting of its first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed who came to power in 2008.

Nasheed, 46, won the first round comfortably with 45.45 percent of the vote and faced a run-off contest on Saturday against Abdullah Yameen, the half-brother of the islands' former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Local and international observer groups found the first round of voting to be free and fair.