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US concerned by Maldives leader’s stay beyond term

November 12, 2013

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — The United States has expressed concern over the Maldives president’s decision to stay in office beyond the end of his official term, saying it could endanger the people’s right to elect a new leader.

President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, whose term officially ended Sunday, has said he is staying to avert a constitutional void since a court postponed a presidential runoff until this weekend. He said he also intended to oversee the runoff.

His decision came despite a U.N. official’s urging that an interim government be established until an elected president can be sworn in.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Hassan’s decision to remain past his legal mandate has “endangered the Maldivian people’s right to elect a leader of their choice.”

“The democratic process must be supported by quickly concluding a free, fair, transparent and inclusive runoff election that results in the prompt inauguration of the new president,” she said Monday.

On Tuesday, Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma said the Maldives will be discussed at a meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on Wednesday in the capital of neighboring Sri Lanka and “an appropriate decision” will be made.

Maldives is one of the 53 members of the Commonwealth, a loose association consisting mostly of former British colonies.

In last Saturday’s presidential election, the country’s first democratically elected president and the brother of a former autocratic ruler qualified for the runoff. It was scheduled for the next day, but the Supreme Court postponed it, in the latest in a series of obstacles in electing a president.

Hassan’s decision has the potential to exacerbate an already volatile political situation. After his announcement, hundreds of supporters of former President Mohamed Nasheed poured into the streets to demand Hassan’s resignation, throwing stones and bottles at police.

Nasheed won nearly 47 percent of the vote in the election, while Yaamin Abdul Gayoom, the brother of 30-year autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, trailed with 30 percent. Businessman Qasim Ibrahim had 23 percent.

The Supreme Court ordered the delay after a member of Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party argued there was little time to campaign or forge alliances.

Some 240,000 people in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation were eligible to vote, and about 86 percent voted.

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