Male: Eighteen months after its first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed stepped down, Maldives will go to polls tomorrow under the watchful eyes of 102 international observers which include a high-level team of former election commissioners from India.
Official sources here said that preparations for the elections have so far been satisfactory but the real test will be tomorrow when polling begins in the 1192-island nation, which has witnessed a series of unsettling political events since Nasheed`s resignation in February 2012.
Over 2,229 local observers, 102 international observers, 1,343 representatives of political parties besides 1,642 local and 225 international journalists are keeping a hawk`s eye on the developments in this young multi-party democracy.
Over 2.39 lakh voters would cast their franchise to elect new President from among four candidates - incumbent Mohamed Waheed, former President and Maldivian Democratic Party candidate Nasheed, brother of ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Jumhooree Party candidate tycoon Gasim Ibrahim.
With such international attention, Election Commission of Maldives is trying hard to conduct free and fair polls and has involved NGOs like Transparency Maldives among the observers.
"It is a difficult task to conduct elections in a country which is spread in such a large geographical area but we have ensured that polls take place in a most transparent and fair manne," Election Commission President Fuwad Taufeeq told a news agency.
Taufeeq said 470 ballot boxes will be used to cover all the 192 inhabited islands and 40 resorts besides six polling stations set up in New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram, London, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore to enable diaspora to cast their votes.
He said the Commission is making efforts that every single voter gets a chance to become part of the poll process.
Even over 1,500 undertrial inmates lodged in the country`s five prisons will get a chance to cast their vote.
Nasheed, who won the first multi-party elections in 2008 and resigned after remaining in power for four years, termed the elections as a chance to restore democratic values."The election is crucial not just for me but for all Maldivians. The vast majority of people here accept that the events of the February 7, 2012 were tantamount to a coup d`etat - an illegal overthrow of a democratically elected government through the threat and use of violence.
"Now we have a chance to set things right again, and ensure that the Maldives is not governed by the barrel of a gun but democratically, through the ballot box," he said.
Being based on ballot papers, the results will be communicated from far flung atolls to the Male-based Election Commission Headquarters through Internet which will be updated on its website. If none of the four candidates wins more than 50 per cent of the total votes polled, the top two contenders will contest a run off scheduled for September 28.
Meanwhile, the team of Indian observers are travelling length and breadth of the Indian Ocean archipelago and meeting various stakeholders.
The Indian delegation include former chief election commissioner J M Lyngdoh, B B Tandon, N Gopalaswami and former High Commissioner of India to Maldives S M Gavai. They will observe polls in Male, Southern region of Addu atoll and Northern regions of Haa Dhallu and Haa Alifu in North.
They also met with the Maldivian Police to get a briefing regarding the security arrangements being made for the polls.
The team had wide-ranging interaction with the EC officials, the UN offices in Maldives, the Commonwealth Observer team, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems and other members of the international community.
The delegation also exchanged views with Maldivian NGOs working in the area of elections such as Transparency Maldives and the Panel for National Harmony.
Transparency Maldives which is largest voluntary group involved in the monitoring process has termed the pre-election environment as "peaceful". However, it cautioned, "For the post-election, the mistrust in the police leadership by the largest political party MDP and perceptions of politicisation do not bode well for the post-election environment."
Advocacy and Communications Manager Aiman Rasheed said, "The security forces` leadership seems to have a direct stake in the outcome of the elections. We think this should change through dialogue between relevant actors, but currently such a dialogue does not exist.
"Second, at the end of the day, political parties have the courts to settle any election disagreement (contestation of results). However, the judiciary has both integrity and accountability issues. Most people believe the judiciary is one of the most corrupt institutions, and again some parties don`t have confidence in the judiciary. There is a perception that one or more parties control the judges," he said.