Maldives strongman wants to rule on into fourth decade

MALE, August, 2007 (AFP) – Asia’s longest serving leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, says he wants to be the first directly elected president of the Maldives after winning a landslide victory for his political reform package. However, the country has yet to stage a multi-party election. Gayoom has previously been the sole presidential candidate nominated by a 50-member majlis, or local parliament — eight members of which are his own nominees. Gayoom told AFP that he would invite the opposition to join him in implementing sweeping reforms in the Indian Ocean atoll nation, after winning 62 percent support for a US-style presidential system in a weekend referendum.

“I am going to ask them to come and talk to ensure we have a smooth transition into a new presidential form of government instead of squabbling with each other,” Gayoom said in an interview late Sunday.

The 69-year-old made his peace offer hours after thousands of Maldivians had their first taste of democracy on Saturday, casting their ballots on how they want to be governed after nearly three decades with Gayoom as their leader.

Gayoom, described by opponents as autocratic, promised an independent judiciary and police as well as broader fundame