New Delhi is concerned at the surprise decision of the Maldivian Supreme Court to annul the entire first round of last month’s presidential election. The decision is seen as exacerbating the island nation’s continuing political crisis.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed had won the September vote with 45 per cent of the vote, setting him up for a second round run-off with, Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, brother of the autocrat who had ruled before democracy was introduced in 2008.
The third candidate, Qasim Ibrahim, then filed a case claiming he had lost a chance to be in the runoff because of voting irregularities. The Supreme Court, largely filled with holdovers from the Gayoom regime, ruled that 5600 votes were tainted and therefore a re-vote needed.
New Delhi had expected only the tainted votes to be recast and is disturbed at the decision for a complete recount. Among other things, say official sources, the court did not disclose the identities of those it called to testify and provided no information about what they said.
India’s bottom line is that there be a peaceful transfer of power by November 11, a constitutionally mandated date. The annulment of the first round now pushes the process right to the wire.
“The court has declared that the fresh polls be held before October 2o9 and if there is to be a second round, it must be held before November 4,” said the Maldivian High Commissioner to India, Mohamed Naseer.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party has already held protests against the Supreme Court ruling.
New Delhi will watch to see if there is any effort to undermine the election commissioner. Nasheed, suspicious about the court’s impartiality, has said his party
would only listen to the election commissioner’s rulings on the polls.
So long as the elections are fair, there is a sense in New Delhi that Nasheed may actually benefit from the present imbroglio. One small opposition party has merged with his and there is some public anger at the court ruling.
The political trajectory of the Maldives, whose territorial waters encompass a large part of the central Indian Ocean, is seen as crucial to India’s maritime and neighbourhood strategy. The archipelago nation is one of the few countries to experience Indian military intervention. In the 1988 Operation Cactus, India airlifted 1600 paratroopers to successfully stop Lankan Tamil mercenaries from taking over the Maldives.