Picture postcard Maldives test democracy at the polls

Oct 06, 2008 (LBO) – The tourist paradise of Maldives will hold its first multi-party poll on Wednesday in what is seen as a litmus test on Asia’s longest serving ruler and his commitment to democratic reforms. Around 209,000 people across some 200 inhabited islands will cast their ballot to elect a president for a five-year term. Unlike the previous presidential hustings, voters now have a choice of six candidates.

Previously it was illegal for anyone to stand for presidency. The 50-member Majlis or parliament nominated a candidate, who in turn was endorsed by the electorate through a “Yes” or “No” vote.

But after 30-years of one-man rule by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, South Asia’s most expensive holiday destination is now at the threshold of change.

Wednesday’s vote culminates four-years of political reforms that began following a series of pro-democracy protest. Political parties were then allowed to register in 2005.

From a backward fishing community in 1978, Gayoom has transformed the Sunni Muslim nation of 369,000 people, to the region’s most expensive tourist destination where per capita income of 3,400 dollars, is the highest in South Asia.

He said he himself