Britain warns against Maldives election delay

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) Britain warned Thursday that additional delays in the Maldives' troubled presidential election could tarnish the country's reputation and harm an economy heavily reliant on tourism.

The minister of state at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Hugo Swire, said legal challenges to the electoral process appear to be aimed at preventing citizens from expressing their views at the ballot box.

"The unacceptable delays to elections and reports of the intimidation of parliamentarians, NGOs and media organizations have been closely watched by the international community," he said. "Further delays could result in greater damage to the Maldives' international reputation and could have a negative impact upon the Maldives' economy."

The Maldives' Supreme Court annulled the results of the Sept. 7 election, saying the voter registry was flawed with made-up names and those of dead people. It ordered a revote, which police then stopped, saying officials had not complied with all guidelines set out by the court in holding the election.

Now a third attempt at holding the election has been set for Nov. 9. However, the country could face a possible constitutional crisis if none of the three candidates receives more than 50 percent of the vote because the current presidential term ends Nov.11, five days before a runoff between the top two vote-getters would be held.

A prolonged political crisis could wreak havoc on the economy in the Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago known for its luxury resorts. Last year, tourism accounted for 27 percent of the country's GDP.

Swire's statement came a day after U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said the Maldives' Supreme Court was "interfering excessively" in the presidential election, thereby subverting the democratic process.

Maldives President Mohamed Waheed Hasssan on Thursday criticized Pilay's statement as "ill-informed and irresponsible" and said it undermines the efforts of the Supreme Court and the government to strengthen the rule of law in the country.

"The United Nations must try to better understand the difficulties facing Maldives in their early phase of democracy, and provide support to find solutions rather than issue damaging statements from a distance," Hassan said in a statement.

The country has faced much political upheaval in the five years since it held its first multiparty election in 2008 after 30 years of autocratic rule.

The Maldives' first democratically elected president resigned midway through his term amid weeks of public protests and a slide in support from the military and police after he ordered the arrest of a senior judge.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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