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Maldives sets presidential vote with opposition in jail or exile

  • Published at 05:51 pm June 9th, 2018
This picture taken on February 21, 2018 shows Maldivian opposition supporters scuffling with security forces officers during a protest demanding the release of political prisoners in Male AFP

Mohamed Nasheed will campaign through social media as he cannot return home

The Maldives has set the date for its next presidential election with incumbent Abdulla Yameen in a commanding position - and his two main rivals either in jail or exiled abroad.

Voters in the Indian Ocean archipelago will go to the polls on September 23, officials said late Thursday, with election authorities to accept candidate nominations next month.

But Yameen has moved against potential rivals since winning a controversial runoff vote against then-president Mohamed Nasheed in 2013, launching a crackdown on dissent that has seen two of the country's former leaders put behind bars.

Nasheed was convicted on a terrorism charge in 2015 and handed a 13-year jail sentence. He was allowed to go to London in 2016 for medical treatment and has remained there in exile since.

Meanwhile Yameen's half brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, a former strongman who ruled the country for 30 years until 2008, is in prison facing terrorism charges for his alleged role in a February Supreme Court ruling that could have led to Yameen's impeachment.

The court had also paved the way for Nasheed's return to the Maldives after ruling to quash criminal convictions against high profile opposition politicians. But its powers were curtailed after Yameen declared a state of emergency in February and arrested two of the court's judges.

Nasheed plans to contest the presidency with the endorsement of his Maldivian Democratic Party, but election laws prevent anyone with a criminal conviction from contesting.

However, the MDP said Nasheed will submit his nomination papers to challenge Yameen, who has ignored UN Human Rights Committee calls to quash Nasheed's conviction.

Colombo-based MDP official Omar Razak said Nasheed will campaign through social media as he cannot return home.

"The authorities have said he cannot contest because of the conviction, but we will go ahead and submit the nominations on his behalf in July," Razak told AFP.

In 2013, the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of voting when Nasheed was leading and twice postponed votes, giving Yameen more time to organise an electoral pact and narrowly win the run-off.