Maldives faces democracy test after ‘coup’ violence

Maldives faces democracy test after ‘coup’ violence
Former President Mohamed Nasheed

MALE, Maldives - The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives goes to the polls this weekend for a presidential election that will test its young democracy 18 months after a violent change in leadership.

Political unrest in February 2012 briefly threatened the country's vital tourism sector, which draws a million well-heeled visitors a year, following the ousting of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed, a scuba-diving former democracy activist, won the Maldives' first free vote in 2008, but resigned last year after a mutiny by police officers.

The 46-year-old denounced it as a coup, saying he was forced to step down at gunpoint, and accused then vice-president Mohamed Waheed of conspiring with former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to replace him.

Waheed's ascent to the presidency sparked months of protests and violent clashes, meaning observers - particularly regional power India - are anxious for a clear and uncontested result on Saturday.

"They (Maldivians) saw how the government was changed and I don't think the majority of people were happy about it," Nasheed told AFP while campaigning on Wednesday in the capital Male.

"What they are trying to do is to bring a legitimate government back." Looking relaxed as he posed for photos with supporters, held babies and stroked a kitten, Nasheed said he was confident of winning an outright majority in the first round.

But he admits the country's history of coups means there is "some apprehension and confidence issues about the security forces". Thoriq Hamed, from Transparency Maldives, an election monitoring group, said campaigning by Nasheed, Waheed and the two other candidates had so far taken place "smoothly and peacefully".

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