29 Oct : Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the longest-serving ruler in Asia, was ousted from power on Wednesday by a former political prisoner who swept the historic presidential run-off in the picturesque Indian Ocean archipelago.
Euphoric opposition supporters poured into the streets as official results showed that Mohamed "Anni" Nasheed, who was repeatedly jailed by Gayoom over a period of six years, has ended the 30-year reign of the 71-year-old leader.
With all votes counted from yesterday’s election, Nasheed won 54 per cent in comparison to 46 per cent for the longtime ruler, election officials said.Nearly 87 per cent of the nation’s 209,000 registered voters had cast their ballots.
The victory of 41-year-old Nasheed marks a watershed in the history of Maldives where a ban on opposition parties was effective till 2004.Gayoom had won the six previous presidential elections but never before faced an opponent.
Under international pressure and growing opposition protests, he launched a democratic reform programme four years ago, lifting the ban on opposition parties and promising to hold the nation’s first multiparty presidential election.
President Gayoom won the first round of the elections earlier this month, but could not secure the stipulated 50 per cent needed for outright victory. "I want a peaceful transition," Nasheed told reporters as results were coming in. "I want my supporters to be calm."
"We have embraced democracy for the sake of the next generation and the people of the Maldives," said acting opposition party head Ibrahim Hussein Zaki.
"Gayom will accept this. He has ruled for 30 years. It should be a very short and harmonious transfer of power."
Nasheed was expected to be sworn on November 11, 30 years to the day that Gayoom took office in 1978.Nasheed emerged as the consensus candidate to challenge Gayoom before the 9th October elections, which were held amidst allegation of widespread irregularities.
President Gayoom has nevertheless been credited with catapulting the country to a high economic growth and making it one of the wealthiest in South Asia.
The Maldives, which was under British rule, became independent on 26th July, 1965.Gayoom survived a bid on his life early this year while mingling with a crowd on Hoarafushi in the north of Maldives The man, who tried to attack the President with a knife, was overpowered and Gayoom escaped without any injury.
In November 1998, India’s help was sought to crush a coup against the ruler.Indian troops landed in the tiny Indian Ocean republic and successfully put down the coup after intruders, numbering 150-400, virtually fled without a fight.There have been at least three coup attempts against Gayoom.
The Maldives, a liberal Sunni Muslim nation of about three lakh people, is a favourite tourist destination endowed with a chain of 1192 coral and white sand islands.