Opposition concedes defeat in Maldives vote

MALE, Maldives - The main opposition party in the Maldives Tuesday accused authorities of undermining the latest parliamentary elections, but conceded defeat after a bitterly-fought campaign.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had criticised the Supreme Court's sacking of the elections chief and his deputy just before Saturday's election, but nevertheless decided to face the polls.

"How can we call this a free vote when the Supreme Court sacks the chief elections commissioner and his deputy two weeks before the election?" MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told AFP. "But, we concede defeat."

The commission's top two have yet to be replaced and President Abdulla Yameen himself raised doubts on Thursday if the election could be held by a depleted panel of three.

Final results which were due to be released on Sunday have been held up due to delays in transporting tally sheets from far-flung atolls, commission official Aishath Reema told AFP by telephone.

However, early projections by the Haveeru newspaper placed Yameen's Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) as the largest single party with 34 seats in the 85-member assembly.

Its allies were predicted to win a further 21 seats, making a PPM-led coalition a formality.

The MDP secured 24, according to Haveeru figures and party spokesman Ghafoor said they accepted the paper's projections as being a fair reflection of Saturday's first-past-the-post election.

The MDP had swept the urban population centres of Male and Addu in the nation's deep south but had performed poorly in smaller atolls, according to the newspaper's preliminary tallies.

Nasheed's nemesis, former Maldivian strongman president Maumoon Abdul, congratulated his half brother Yameen on his party's "impressive victory".

The independent watchdog Transparency Maldives said the election was conducted well, but alleged widespread "vote buying" that it said could undermine democracy in the long run.

It did not say which party or candidates were buying votes.

Saturday's poll went ahead as scheduled despite fears about the ability of the elections commission to stage the ballot successfully after the two sackings by the Supreme Court.

A total of 302 candidates contested the 85 seats in the Maldives, where the directly elected president has wide powers in the country of 330,000 Sunni Muslims.

Just over two-thirds of the 240,000-strong electorate turned out to vote, officials said, citing preliminary estimates.

The sacking of the election officials reopened the controversy over last year's presidential election, when the Supreme Court annulled the results of a first round won by former president Nasheed, and then cancelled two other polls at the last minute.

Yameen won the November 16 presidential run-off, five years after the island nation introduced multi-party democracy.