Asia's longest-serving leader faced 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 Indian Ocean archipelago 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 tiny Muslim state 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.
Voters quietly waited to cast their ballots under a hot morning sun after polling booths opened at 9 a.m. Preliminary results were expected late Tuesday or Wednesday.
"I feel good. I voted for change," said first-time voter Musthasa Muhammed, an 18-year-old student. "One government has been here for 30 years. In America or India more than 3 or 4 presidents have come and gone, but here there has been only one."
The challenger representing change 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.
A 15-year-old boy was in critical condition after being stabbed in the head and chest Monday while dropping pro-Nasheed campaign material at an office of the president's rival Maldivian Peoples' Party, the teenager's father said. Police declined to comment.
"The doctors said he doesn't have any chance of recovering. He has brain damage that can't be treated here and a stab wound in his lung," said Sodhuman Addul Ghani, 30.
Under Gayoom, the Maldives' breathtaking beaches, crystal-clear waters and coral reefs have become among the region's most popular diving spots, and tourism is the leading 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.
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. Gayoom received 41 percent of the Oct. 8 vote.
Around 209,000 eligible voters are expected to head to polling stations spread across 1,190 islands, about 200 of them inhabited and dozens more developed into lucrative tourist resorts, many owned by current and former Cabinet ministers.
AP reporter Olivia Lang contributed to this report.