A presidential poll due to be held today in the Maldives has been halted at the last minute after police surrounded the office used by election officials and stopped them from working.
On what an election official said was a “dark day for democracy”, police officers claimed they would not allow the election to proceed as it would be in breach of regulations issued by the country’s highest court.
“We cannot proceed with the election if police are obstructing it,” Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek told reporters, according to Reuters. “[The police have] overstepped their authority.”
The halting of Saturday’s vote is just the latest drama in months of turmoil since former president Mohamed Nasheed, who won the Maldives’ first free elections in 2008, was ousted in February 2012 in what he and his supporters said was a coup.
Under international pressure, the next government agreed to organise elections and a poll was held on September 7 in which Mr Nasheed secured the highest number of votes.
He appeared to be well placed ahead of a run-off due to take place on September 28 which the country’s Supreme Court halted amid claims by two other candidates that there had been irregularities, despite election observers saying the voting had been fair. To resolve the crisis, new polls were set to take place on Saturday.
The court had said a voter registry list had to be approved and signed by all parties. While Mr Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) signed the list, two of his rivals did not, claiming they had not had sufficient time to verify the data.
Those two parties, the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) had on Friday night appealed to the Supreme Court, asking for another delay.
The PPM’s candidate is Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of the Maldives’ former dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Meanwhile, the JP is headed by Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who once served as Mr Gayoom’s finance minister.
In 2008, Mr Nasheed, a former political prisoner, defeated Mr Gayoom in the country’s first independent election. Many observers believe the former dictator is influencing events from the sidelines, a claim he has denied.
On Saturday, a spokesman for Mr Nasheed claimed the country was now in a “confusing” situation. “The police are not now in charge of this country,” said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, speaking from Male, the capital. “They don’t want an election That is the long and short of it.”
Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz told the AFP news agency: “Only one candidate had signed the voter register and therefore it would have been a violation of the Supreme Court guidelines for the election to go ahead.”