Maldives’ opposition vows to unseat lord of the atolls

MALE, October 7, 2008 (AFP) – For the main opposition leader of the Maldives, life on the islands is a far cry from the more familiar image portrayed by holiday brochures. While its white sand beaches and crystal clear waters may be a paradise for well-heeled tourists, the Indian Ocean nation is beset by rising crime, drugs, cronyism and corruption, according to Mohamed ‘Anni’ Nasheed.

And he is hoping that message will spur islanders to vote out incumbent President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on Wednesday, in elections that mark the first time Asia’s longest-serving leader has allowed any competition.

“This is an historic moment: during previous elections I’ve been in jail. But now Maumoon is facing the verdict on 30 years of rule,” Anni told a packed campaign rally late Monday.

“I spent many nights in jail, in solitary confinement, dreaming of this moment. We will win!”

A former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience and at the forefront of the struggle to bring democracy to the Muslim archipelago, Anni is being presented by his aides as the Maldives’ very own Nelson Mandela figure.

Gayoom, they insist, should be compared to Zimbabwe’s Robert Muga