Maldives heads for referendum on political system

July 31, 2007 (AFP) – The Indian Ocean tourist paradise of the Maldives will hold a referendum to decide the future role of its powerful presidency held by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom for the past 29 years, officials said Tuesday. The main opposition party welcomed the move to hold a plebiscite next month on whether the presidency or a parliament should govern the country.

“The referendum will give people the choice to decide whether they want to be ruled by a presidential or a parliamentary system of government,” Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) founder Mohamed Latheef said.

Currently the country has an appointed body known as the Majlis which can comment on, but not change presidential legislation.

Political parties were allowed in the Maldives for the first time in June 2005 in line with reforms announced by President Gayoom who was originally elected in 1978 and is currently Asia’s longest-serving head of state.

Home to around 300,000 Sunni Muslims, the Maldives has yet to hold multi-party elections and Gayoom’s opponents have accused him of clinging to power.

The referendum is set to be held on August 18, Maldivian officials said.

“We are pressing for a parliamentary or Westminster-style of gove