Maldives Supreme Court has ordered the suspension of Sunday’s run-off for the controversy-ridden presidential re-vote, prolonging the political turmoil in the country amid mounting international concern.
The presidential run-off was due to take place on Sunday but the Indian Ocean island nation's top court delayed it until November 16 in a pre-dawn ruling.
"All relevant state authorities are informed that today's election cannot take place," the Supreme Court said just hours before the run-off was due to begin.
In Saturday’s crucial re-vote, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chief Mohammed Nasheed emerged a winner but failed to clinch 50 per cent of the votes to avoid a run-off.
The 46-year-old former president bagged 46.4 per cent of the votes, a marginal increase from his previous tally of 45.45 per cent votes in the September 7 polls that were annulled by the Supreme Court in which Nasheed had emerged the front-runner.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) leader Abdullah Yameen made a significant gain of nearly five per cent over the 25.35 per cent of votes he secured in the annulled polls and managed 30.3 per cent of the votes.
Jumhooree Party (JP) leader and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim bagged 23.4 per cent of the votes as second runner up.
The order issued by the Supreme Court stated that by holding the run-off the very next day to the first round could undermine the constitutional rights of many people.
The court ordered all state institutions to hold the second round on November 16, saying it finds Saturday "the best date to hold the run-off".
Ibrahim had asked the court for more time to tell his supporters which way to vote in the run-off between Nasheed and Yameen, half-brother of former autocrat Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The court order came following Chief Elections Commissioner Fuwad Thaufeek's announcement that he was going ahead with the run-off agreed beforehand by the candidates, but with a five-hour delay.
Meanwhile, Maldives Vice President Mohamed Waheed Deen resigned on Sunday, news daily Haveeru reported without citing any reason.
Both United States and the Commonwealth had warned against delaying the presidential run-off vote.
"It is now imperative that the second round take place immediately and in line with Elections Commission directions in order to ensure the Maldivian people are led by an elected president of their choice," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The 53-member Commonwealth bloc's special envoy to the Maldives, Donald McKinnon, said: "It is important now that the electoral process move forward swiftly to its conclusion, with the holding of the second round.
"It is unreasonable and unacceptable for parties to continue to demand changes to an agreed election date. Voters deserve better from their leaders and a greater degree of predictability over something as serious as a presidential election."
This is the third time the presidential elections have been derailed.
Nasheed's MDP had warned that the country could be heading towards a constitutional crisis without a leader, but the Supreme Court yesterday ruled that outgoing President Mohamed Waheed can remain as a caretaker.
The country needs to have a new president in place by November 11 when the current presidential term ends.
Nasheed won the country's first multi-party elections in 2008, ending 30 years of rule by Gayoom but after clashing with key institutions, including the judiciary and security forces. The political scene in Maldives has been in a state of flux since Nasheed resigned under duress in February 2012. He was succeeded by Vice-President Waheed.