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Vote counting in Maldives polls

Voters in the Maldives were waiting for results on Sunday from a referendum on how they want to be governed in future, after the tiny Pacific nation got an unusual taste of democracy.

world Updated: Aug 19, 2007 09:33 IST

Voters in the Maldives were waiting for results on Sunday from a referendum on how they want to be governed in future, after the tiny Pacific nation got an unusual taste of democracy.

Ruled by Asia's longest-serving leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom since 1978, residents voted Saturday on whether to adopt a US-style presidential or British-style parliamentary government in the mostly Sunni Muslim country.

Political parties have only been legal in the Maldives, a chain of more than 1,000 coral islands and one of the world's most exotic tourist spots, since 2005 when Gayoom announced a series of political reforms.

Gayoom, who has campaigned for a presidential government which would be a stronger central executive, has promised an independent judiciary and police and broader fundamental rights to citizens under a new constitution.

Opponents have been pushing for a British-style parliamentary model.

With results trickling in to the capital Male from across the islands, some of them by fax, the presidential campaign was ahead with just more than 50 percent of the votes counted, election commission officials said.

"We appear to have got the edge based on what's released," said an official of Gayoom's Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The DRP is backing a presidential system under a new constitution where the president could serve two five-year terms. Gayoom is already in his sixth term under the present charter and has said he would run again under the new system.

Protestors led by the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have taken to the streets in recent years to demand greater civil rights and protest Gayoom's rule, described by opponents as autocratic.