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Maldives' Gayoom loses historic election

Male, October 29, 2008

The Maldives' 30-year incumbent president on Wednesday lost to a former political activist he repeatedly threw into jail during years of crusading for democracy on the tropical Indian Ocean archipelago.

With all 179,343 votes counted, Mohamed 'Anni' Nasheed had 54.2 percent against 45.8 percent for Asia's longest-serving leader, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, election commissioner Mohamed Ibrahim said, citing provisional figures.

'I'd like to extend congratulations to Mohamed Nasheed on behalf of the electoral commission. Mohamed Nasheed is the winner of the second round,' Ibrahim told reporters. A formal announcement is due within seven days.

Nasheed's victory in the nation's first multiparty elections caps a remarkable journey for an activist whose criticism of Gayoom and crusading for democracy saw him charged 27 times and jailed or banished to remote atolls for a total of six years.

The vote is the culmination of years of agitation for democratic reforms on the string of 1,192 mostly uninhabited coral atolls 800 km (500 miles) off the tip of India, peopled by 300,000 Sunni Muslims.

Better known as a diving hotspot and a luxury hideaway for Hollywood stars and others who can afford nightly stays that can reach thousands of dollars a night, Gayoom had been criticised for ruling it like a personal sultanate.

Gayoom conceded defeat and congratulated Nasheed, speaking on state radio. 'I congratulate Anni,' Gayoom told the Voice of Maldives station. 'I thank the people of the Maldives for allowing me to serve them for 30 years.'

As earlier returns showed Nasheed, 41, ahead, many of his supporters lined the seawall in the capital Male to celebrate in the early-morning sun.

Nasheed was at the fore of the campaign for democracy, including during 2004 protests that prompted a brutal crackdown by security forces and drew rare international criticism -- and attention -- to the hideaway islands.

Gayoom, 71, won the October 9-10 first-round election, but did not get the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff. Nasheed was second, but this time had the backing of the four contenders who placed behind him and Gayoom.

It is the first time Gayoom faced opposition at the polls since first being elected in 1978. In each of his six previous votes, he stood alone for a yes-no nod from voters and said he was re-elected by more than 90 percent each time.

This time, 86 percent of the Maldives' more than 209,000 registered voters cast their ballots.

Although there were complaints about registration and fraud like the first round, poll observers praised the exercise.

 'There were still glitches with voter registration, but the feedback we are getting is very positive. It is nothing like the last time,' a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

Gayoom is widely credited with overseeing the Maldives' transformation from a fishing-based economy to a tourism powerhouse with South Asia's highest per-capita income.

But Nasheed argued that only a small clique around Gayoom grew rich amid corruption in his government, which Gayoom denies. He now faces a charge from the newly independent electoral commission accusing him of illegal campaigning. - Reuters




Tags: Election | Gayoom | Maldives | Nasheed |

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