MALE, Maldives - The Maldives government on Tuesday urged all parties to back fresh elections after the Supreme Court annulled last month's results, a move that has raised fears of new tensions on the troubled archipelago.
The government also called for international support for the new presidential polls expected to be held by October 20, after deepening concern overseas over the constitutional turmoil in the country. The court late Monday ordered a fresh ballot, suspending the first round of voting on September 7, won by former leader Mohamed Nasheed and hailed as free and fair by local and international observers.
The court cited allegations of electoral fraud in the September poll, which had been expected to end political turmoil in the country 18 months after the violent ousting of Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president.
"The government... seeks support of friendly governments and international organisations to assist the government and all related parties... and encourage everyone concerned to respect and abide by the Supreme Court ruling," the government said in a statement.
The government of incumbent President Mohamed Waheed also pledged a "smooth transfer of power" to the winner of the fresh elections. The Supreme Court had suspended a run-off election that was due to take place on September 28 on allegations of irregularities in the first round in which Nasheed narrowly missed garnering 50 per cent of the ballots needed to claim outright victory.
The court's decision to suspend the run-off angered Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and there had been occasionally violent protests in the islands. The Maldives has resisted international pressure to ensure the run-off takes place without delay and President Waheed has maintained that they must allow the legal process to take its course.
Delegations from the Commonwealth, the United Nations and the European Union had declared the first round to be free and fair. On Monday the court annulled the first round and ordered a fresh ballot within 13 days after hearing a petition on allegations of electoral fraud made by a defeated candidate, businessman Qasim Ibrahim.
"The court in a majority decision of 4-3 annulled the elections and ordered fresh elections by October 20," a court official told reporters after the judgement.
The court ordered that if no candidate secured an absolute majority in the fresh elections, a run-off election should be held before November 4. A new president must be in office by November 11, a deadline set by the 1978 constitution that ended 30-year one-party rule by former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The court's ruling sparked fears of renewed protests, although there were no immediate signs of unrest in the capital Male on Tuesday. An MDP official told hundreds of supporters outside the court on Monday that the fresh elections could be a chance for the party to win outright.
Hours before the ruling, six masked men set fire to a private television network that supports Nasheed's campaign. The station was back on air by afternoon despite suffering extensive damage.
Nasheed, who claims he was ousted in a coup, had been set to contest the run-off with Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of former autocrat Gayoom who ruled for three decades until 2008.