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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 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 multiparty poll 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 and preliminary results were expected late Tuesday or Wednesday.
"I feel good. I voted for change," said 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.
Under Gayoom, the Maldives' breathtaking beaches, crystal-clear waters and coral reefs have been turned into highly profitable luxury resorts, but around a fifth of the population still lives in poverty.
Gayoom, who has been the only candidate on the ballot for three decades, began a democratic reform program in 2004 in the face of large-scale street protests and growing international pressure.
"He is a real leader. The capability of the other candidate's team is poor," said Khadeeja Ibrahim, a 36-year-old secretary, as she cast her vote.
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.
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AP reporter Olivia Lang contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-03 06:19 GMT+08:00