The United States stepped up its criticism of the embattled Maldives on Tuesday, warning caretaker president Mohamed Waheed that a decision to remain in office after his mandate expired was endangering democracy.
The US State Department said Waheed’s move to continue to govern after his time in office lapsed at midnight on Sunday was unprecedented, after the tourism-reliant Indian Ocean nation failed to hold elections for the third time in two months.
“The US government is deeply concerned by President Waheed’s unprecedented decision to remain past the legal mandate of his presidency, which ended on November 10,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement issued by the US embassy in Colombo.
“This action has endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice,” she said.
Waheed announced Sunday he would remain in office until a rescheduled run-off vote to elect a president is held on November 16, five days after the constitution mandates that his term should have ended.
The country’s Supreme Court postponed Sunday’s vote, just hours before it was due to be held, a move slammed by the US and likely to draw further international criticism.
The court, dominated by judges named during 30 years of autocratic rule by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, has blocked three attempts to elect a new leader for the Sunni Muslim nation of 350,000 people.
Mohamed Nasheed, the country’s first democratically elected president who was ousted in February last year, is the frontrunner to return to power. He has accused the court and Waheed of deliberately blocking him.
He secured nearly 47 per cent of the vote in a first-round vote on Saturday, compared with just under 30 per cent for his nearest rival Abdulla Yameen, the half-brother of Gayoom.
The US accused the Supreme Court of “unduly” interfering in the democratic process by postponing the run-off, five years after the island nation introduced multi-party democracy.
The political crisis deepened on Monday when the parliament’s speaker warned Waheed he had no right to govern past his official mandate under the terms of the constitution.
On Sunday night Waheed vowed he would not step down despite opposition calls for him to go.
“The president assured the public that he will resign on the 16th [after the run-off election] and will not accept any further delays to the elections,” Waheed’s spokesman Masood Imad told reporters.
Nasheed resigned in February last year following demonstrations and a mutiny by security forces which he denounced as a coup engineered by Waheed and former strongman Gayoom.