Maldives president claims referendum victory, appeals for unity

MALE, Aug 19, 2007 (AFP) – Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Sunday claimed victory in a referendum on how the Indian Ocean atoll nation should be governed, saying it was a mandate for his reform proposals. The Maldives consists of 1,192 tiny coral islands scattered 850 kilometres (550 miles) across the Equator. Only 200 islands are inhabited by the population of 300,000. “I’m very happy that the Maldivian people have given me a massive vote of confidence. It is a clear mandate to go ahead with the reform program,” Gayoom told reporters.

An estimated 61 percent of voters chose the US-style presidential system favoured by Gayoom over a British-style parliamentary government backed by opposition parties, election commission chief K.D. Ahmed Manik announced.

The vote in the mainly Sunni Muslim country followed years of simmering political unrest and calls for change in the former British protectorate run by Gayoom, of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Asia’s longest-serving ruler, who took office in 1978.

Noting that the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had questioned some of the poll results, Gayoom, aged 69, scotched the allegations and instead appealed for unity.

“I