The honeymoon Maldive Islands were plunged into a potentially volatile election crisis yesterday after the Supreme Court ordered security forces to take action against anyone who violates the constitution.
The order came after the islands' election chief vowed to proceed with a presidential vote today in defiance of a Supreme Court ruling.
Six out of seven Supreme Court judges ruled on Thursday that the court's earlier order on Monday to postpone the run-off election should be upheld. The court also told security forces to "stop any individual from disobeying" the postponement.
"Since it is stated clearly (in the constitution), it is illegal to disobey or challenge a Supreme Court order within the jurisdiction of the Maldives," it said.
The run-off vote is being delayed after a complaint of voting irregularities from the losing party. But supporters of the election front runner, former president Mohamed Nasheed, accuse the court of being stacked with cronies of the autocratic regime that preceded him.
Amid increasing international pressure on the government to push ahead with a run-off, the election commissioner, Fuwad Thowfeek, said on Thursday the Supreme Court had no right to override the constitution, which stipulates that a run-off vote must be held within three weeks of the first round of voting.
"We don't believe any organisation or institution can overshadow the constitution. So we are working toward the constitution," he said, despite calls for his arrest by some politicians for contempt of court. "I don't care about punishment from the Supreme Court. They should uphold the constitution," he said.
The first round of voting, on September 7, was easily won by Nasheed, whose removal from power in February last year ignited months of unrest.
"We welcome the Election Commission decision. I ask all parties to respect this decision," tweeted Nasheed.
Nasheed secured 45.45 percent in the first round, short of the 50 per cent needed for outright victory, and his party promptly announced mass protests against the postponement.
The run-off was expected to help end months of political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago that began after Nasheed was ousted.
Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of the islands' longtime autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, placed second in the first round, just ahead of Gasim Ibrahim, formerly finance minister under Gayoom.
Gasim's Jumhoory Party had asked the Supreme Court to annul the first round result, alleging voting irregularities. But Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party dismissed the move as unconstitutional.
Yameen's vice-presidential candidate, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, said the Election Commission did not have the mandate to hold the election against the will of the Supreme Court.
"The election cannot go ahead. We will not allow it. No one will allow it," he said.
Nasheed's successor, President Mohamed Waheed, under pressure to hold the run-off as scheduled, asked the international community to refrain from making statements on the vote.
"Irresponsible statements by foreign governments and international organisations would not be helpful in consolidating democracy in the country," he said.