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Asia's longest-serving leader in Maldives run-off

Asia's longest-serving leader in Maldives run-off

Asia's longest-serving leader faces a democracy activist he once held as a political prisoner in a run-off vote Tuesday in the Maldives' first democratic presidential election.
President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, 71, who has led the tiny Muslim state through three decades of economic expansion but is accused of suppressing human rights, is hoping to win a seventh term in office.
The election, the first with more than one candidate on the ballot since the country gained independence from Britain in 1965, is seen as a referendum on Gayoom's policies and a test of the country's desire for change.
His challenger is Maldivian Democratic Party leader Mohamed Nasheed, who finished second in the first round of voting earlier this month in which no candidate received the required majority.
Under Gayoom, the Maldives' breathtaking beaches, crystal-clear waters and coral reefs are among the region's most popular diving spots and tourism is the most important source of income, followed by fishing.
Tuesday's winner will inherit the low-lying island nation's tough challenges _ a looming global recession that will hit visitor numbers, rising sea levels caused by climate change, a growing heroin problem and a threat of Islamic fundamentalism.
Gayoom's allies have accused Nasheed of seeking to spread Christianity in the increasingly conservative Muslim country of 370,000.
Nasheed denies he has a secret Christian agenda. Like most Maldivians, he is a Sunni Muslim, a requirement for all presidential candidates.
The challengers both spoke confidently of victory at late-night rallies Sunday attended by thousands of supporters who came out despite tropical monsoon downpours.
"We want to bring reform to the Maldives, reform that leaves no room for other religions," Gayoom told a cheering crowd of around 4,000 wearing white headbands. "Maldivians want change, but good change."
"God willing, we will win this election with a significant difference," said Gayoom, who received 41 percent of the Oct. 8 vote.
Nasheed, who says he was tortured as a political dissident under Gayoom's regime, won 25 percent of the vote, but predicted he would receive up to 65 percent after gaining endorsements from other opposition parties.


Updated : 2021-04-20 09:05 GMT+08:00