‘Prisoner’ beats ‘Jailer’ in Maldives elections

Mohamed Nasheed

A former Amnesty International "prisoner of conscience" has spectacularly beaten his former jailer and Asia's longest serving ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, in the Maldives' first democratic election.

In a close Presidential contest, leader of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed, known locally as 'Anni', polled 54 per cent of the vote. Mr Gayoom, who first came to power in 1978, polled 46 per cent.

The win is a remarkable change of fortune for the graduate of John Moore University, Liverpool and former journalist who claims he has been jailed 13 times since 1989 by Mr Gayoom and limps after being tortured by his security forces.

Anni now becomes the third President of the Maldives since the islands became independent from Britain in 1965.

There was jubilation in the capital Male at the result. "It is a very happy result - it speaks for itself," said MDP vice president Ibrahim Hussein Zaki. "We are very happy that President Gayoom peacefully conceded defeat - he called Nasheed last night".

Anni formed the Maldivian Democratic Party in 2003 and, following continual harassment, was granted political asylum by the British government one year later. He returned to the Maldives in 2005.

The MDP is closely aligned with the Conservative party and Anni and is known to be a good friend of the shadow foreign secretary, William Hague.

Anni has already committed the MDP to $350m (£218m) of spending commitments and in a surprise announcement said he would hold a "mid-term" election before his five-year term is up.

"I did not contest the election for personal desire... I don't want to come between any political leader the people want and the people", he said.

In the first round of the elections on 8 October Anni picked up 25 per cent of the vote and Mr Gayoom won 41 per cent.

The other four candidates who were beaten in the contest all quickly endorsed the MDP leader.

President Anni inherits one of the most beautiful and lucrative tourist destinations in the world but also an archipelago where nearly half of Maldivians live in poverty. Drug misuse, crime and Islamic fundamentalism are also on the rise.

Over 209,000 Maldivians were registered to vote and turnout was again extremely high at 86 per cent. Last year over 125,000 British tourists visited the islands.

© The Telegraph Group London 2008-10-29

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