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Maldivians go to polls in election of president

By Ravi Nessman
Associated Press / October 9, 2008
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MALE, Maldives - Thousands of Maldivian islanders braved long lines, pouring rain, and glitches in the voting rolls yesterday to cast ballots in the first democratic presidential election in their tiny nation's history.

The vote was seen as a referendum on the 30-year-rule of President Mamoun Abdul Gayoom, who used a burgeoning tourist trade to turn the islands into an economic success story, but has been accused of cracking down on dissent and allowing cronies to dominate the economy.

"He has done a lot, he has really done a lot . . . but now it's time for him to give room for other people to come up," said Ibrahim Zubaya, 52, who works for a mobile phone company.

But voting in this Sunni Muslim nation of 1,190 coral islands southwest of India got off to an inauspicious start, as hundreds of voters found their names missing from the rolls.

Opposition officials accused the government of tampering but insisted the vote must continue. Results were not expected until today.

Mariya Didi, a parliamentarian and chairwoman of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, discovered she and her 10 siblings were not on the rolls.

She eventually was told that her registration had been moved to another station, where she voted nearly six hours after she first got in line, she said.

Gayoom's major opponents in the six-person race were Mohamed Nasheed, the charismatic leader of the MDP and a former political prisoner, and Hassan Saeed, a reform-minded former attorney general who is running on the ticket with Shaheed.

If no one wins an outright majority, the two top vote-getters will meet in a run off.

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