A crucial presidential revote in the Maldives was today blocked at the last minute by the police, plunging the country into fresh political uncertainty and triggering demands by the leading party for international intervention.
Minutes before voting was to start this morning, the elections commission issued a statement saying that the police had blocked its officials from conducting the revote.
Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz said polling was stopped because the EC did not comply with a court order to have the voters' rolls endorsed by all the presidential candidates. He said police acted after consulting President Mohammed Waheed, the security council and the home ministry.
The EC head Fuwad Thowfeek said police entered his offices and stopped officials from distributing poll materials. It was "a dark day for democracy", he said in a televised speech.
The EC accused the police of undermining its independence. "Whether or not polls is held or not is now at the hands of the police," Thowfeek said. The Maldivian Democratic Party of former President Mohamed Nasheed, which led in the first round of balloting on September 7, called for international intervention to end the impasse.
"There is no other way but international intervention. We are waiting for the international community to realise to get into action, otherwise we are another Burma," said MDP spokesman Abdul Gafur.
"President Nasheed was saved by the skin of his teeth as he ran into the Indian high commission...it is a cat and mouse game," he told PTI on phone.
Gafur said the entire machinery opposing the democratic process -- including the police, the army, President Mohammed Waheed and the supreme court -- had been validated by the world community after the "coup" of February 2012.
The Maldives has been in turmoil since Nasheed was removed from the post of president last year. Nasheed pushed for today's revote but two candidates, Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen, who trailed him in the first round of balloting did not want the polling to go ahead.
The police said they had stopped the EC from going ahead with the revote because of a "perceived threat to national stability if the polls were held in violation of the supreme court guideline", Haveeru newspaper reported on its website.
But EC chief Thowfeek said the police's role was limited to ensuring the safety of ballot papers during printing and transportation.
"I believe that they crossed the line. They believe that they can boss us around...That is a clear violation of their mandate," he said.
On Friday, presidential candidates Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen appealed to the Supreme Court to block the revote, saying they had not been given time to endorse the voters rolls. The apex court did not issue an injunction or issue a clear instruction for the revote to go ahead.
Last week, the Supreme Court annulled results of the first round of polling and ordered fresh polls before October 20 after hearing a petition on alleged electoral fraud filed by the third placed candidate, Gasim Ibrahim.
In that balloting, former President Nasheed, 46, got 45.45 per cent votes. However, a candidate needs to cross the 50 per cent mark for the poll process to be complete.
The term of incumbent President Waheed ends on November 11 and if no new candidate is elected, it might spark a constitutional crisis in the nascent democracy.
When Nasheed was forced to resign in duress last year, he was succeeded by Waheed, who was then the Vice-President. Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, who had visited Maldives on Thursday and met leaders of various political parties, said the people have high expectations from democracy and this was reflected by the high turnout of 88 per cent in the first round of polling last month.
"India's interest is in a stable, peaceful and progressive Maldives. To this end, we want transparent and free and fair democratic polls that will bring a stable government," she had said after the visit.