Maldives’ ex-leader: Anti-Islamic label cost votes

MALE, Maldives (AP) — The first democratically elected president of the Maldives said Sunday that his rivals portraying him as anti-Islamic may have turned some voters against him and possibly denied him a simple majority in the presidential election.

Mohamed Nasheed emerged the clear leader in Saturday’s election, receiving 45 percent of the votes, but fell short of the more than 50 percent needed in the first round to avoid a Sept. 28 runoff against Yaamin Abdul Qayyoom, a brother of the Maldives’ former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Nasheed’s rivals have long accused him of working with Jews and Christians and of trying to undermine Islam in the 100 percent Muslim nation. He was ousted from power midway through his first term last year, plunging the Indian Ocean archipelago into political uncertainty.

“Some used religion as a campaign strategy, manipulating it to a large extent, and it did affect a few voters,” Nasheed told reporters.

The religious issue featured prominently in the election campaign, with writings on walls in Male, the capital, reading “Pope Anni.” Nasheed is known as Anni among Maldivians.

He also said that even though the election was largely peaceful, turnout in some areas was higher than the number of registered voters. He said he asked the Elections Commission for an explanation.

Nasheed, who in 2008 won the country’s first multiparty election after 30 years of autocracy, said a decision would be made soon whether to contest the results in court.

Transparency Maldives, an independent election monitoring group, said that there were minor complaints of voting irregularities, but that they would not affect the result.

Qayyoom received 25 percent of Saturday’s vote, while businessman Qasim Ibrahim was a close third with 24 percent and incumbent President Mohamed Waheed Hassan got 5 percent, according to Elections Commission results released Sunday.

More than 211,000 of the Maldives’ 240,000 eligible voters turned out.

The country, known for its luxurious island beach resorts, has been in political turmoil since Nasheed resigned last year after weeks of public protests and slipping support from the military and police. He later said he was forced to resign at gunpoint by mutinying security forces and politicians backed by the country’s former autocrat.

Though a domestic commission of inquiry threw out his claim, Nasheed has repeatedly dismissed as illegal the government of Hassan, his former vice president.

Despite winning the most first-round votes Saturday, Nasheed may still face a battle getting over the finish line as the third- and fourth-place finishers were also his bitter critics and are likely to throw their support to Qayyoom.

However, Nasheed may benefit from the fact that some Maldivians remember the human rights issues of the three-decade dictatorship and fear returning there.

“Now I am 40 and I know what happened (in the 30 years), said an airport worker, Ali, who only gave one name.

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