Maldives faces democracy test after ‘coup’ violence

MALE, September 5, 2013 (AFP) – The Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives goes to the polls this weekend for a presidential election that will test its young democracy 18 months after a violent change in leadership.

Its more than 1,000 islands sit aside the world’s most important east-west shipping channel and its strategic location was appreciated by former colonial master Britain, which ran a military base there until 1976.

The Waheed administration alienated New Delhi last December by aligning with known India antagonists and terminating Indian group GMR’s contract to run the international airport.

A new Chinese embassy which opened in 2011 has also raised eyebrows.

If no candidate secures a majority on Saturday, a run-off poll is scheduled for September 28.

Corrected Political unrest in February 2012 briefly threatened the country’s vital tourism sector, which draws a million well-heeled visitors a year, following the ousting of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed, a scuba-diving former democracy activist, won the Maldives’ first free vote in 2008, but resigned last year after a mutiny by police officers.

The 46-year-old denounced it as a coup, saying he was forc