Maldives set for presidential runoff between 1st freely elected leader, ex-autocrat's brother

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Voters in the Maldives will choose between their first democratically elected leader and the longtime autocrat's brother in a presidential runoff on Saturday that comes amid international concerns that the tiny archipelago nation may slip back to autocratic rule after a long delay in the election.

Mohamed Nasheed, who was elected president in the country's first multiparty election in 2008, is favored to win having polled nearly 47 percent in the Nov. 9 first round. His failure to get at least 50 percent for an outright win required a runoff against Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, a brother of Maldives' 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The election is expected to be a close contest with Yaamin, who received 30 percent of first-round votes, courting the support of third-placed candidate, tourist resort owner Qasim Ibrahim, who received 23 percent.

Maldives is under scrutiny after failing to elect a president in three attempts since September and after incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan extended his term in office by six days purportedly to avoid a constitutional void because the country is past a legal deadline to elect a new president.

Some voters appeared to have run out of patience.

"We are fed up with politics. It has slowed our life. There is no business anymore," said Abdullah Abeedh, a 25-year-old photographer. "We want this election process to end Saturday and the president to be elected," he said, adding a lot of public money is already wasted.

"I am not voting this round. There is none who is good," said Mohamed Ali, a government employee.

Aishath Muna, a 21-year-old private sector employee said she will vote for Gayoom because she doesn't want "foreigners to meddle with our affairs."

The Supreme Court annulled results of a vote conducted on Sept. 7 because it found that the voters' register contained fake names and those of dead people. The court also set forth 16 guidelines to the Elections Commission.

Police stopped a second attempt at holding the election because all candidates had not consented to a fresh voters' list as the court mandated.

The court intervened again to change the runoff election date, which had been set for the day after the Nov. 9 election. It also ordered Hassan to continue in office despite his term ended on Nov.11.

The European Union warned that the country may slip back to autocratic rule and said it is considering "appropriate measures" if Maldives fails to elect a new president Saturday. It said further delays will only be seen as attempts to prevent Maldivians from exercising their democratic right.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement earlier this week that Hassan's decision to stay beyond his term has endangered the people's right to elect a new leader and called for the election to be concluded soon.

Maldives has seen much upheaval in the five years since it conducted its first multiparty election. There has been conflict between the judiciary, parliament and the executive presidency who often worked in different directions. The judiciary and bureaucracy were often criticized of being loyal to Gayoom, the former autocratic ruler.

Nasheed was elected in 2008 but resigned midway through his term last year after weeks of public protests and sliding support of the military and police over his decision to detain a senior judge whom he perceived as biased.

He later claimed that he was ousted in a coup but a local inquiry commission set aside the allegation.

Maldives is a predominantly Muslim nation of 350,000 people. About 240,000 are eligible to vote Saturday.