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Former political prisoner elected Maldives president

world Updated: Oct 29, 2008 13:29 IST

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A former political prisoner has swept to victory in the Maldives' first-ever democratic presidential election, unseating Asia's longest-serving leader, officials said on Wednesday.

The Indian Ocean archipelago nation's election commission said that with nearly all votes from Tuesday's historic polls counted, Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed had won 54 per cent of votes to 46 percent for incumbent leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Gayoom, 71, had ruled the tourist paradise islands unchallenged since 1978, and had in the past thrown Nasheed into jail.

Gayoom failed to win an outright victory in the first round of voting three weeks ago, prompting the run-off against the charismatic 41-year-old Nasheed, once described by Amnesty International as a "prisoner of conscience."

Nasheed, a political moderate, has promised to root out corruption, deliver better healthcare and communications to remote islands, cut state spending, privatise state trading enterprises and turn the lavish presidential palace into a university.

The Maldives, a liberal Sunni Muslim nation of 300,000 people, has never had multi-party elections before. In fact, until a few years ago, anyone declaring an intention to seek high office used to be banished to an uninhabited island.

The elections were the result of Gayoom's promise to bring political freedoms to the Indian Ocean archipelago in the wake of pro-democracy protests and international pressure.

With almost 97.5 per cent of the ballots counted, Nasheed had a 14,000-vote lead that put him safely above the 50 per cent mark even if all the remaining ballots went to Gayoom, an election official said.