To push for smooth polls, India hastens foreign secretary to Maldives

India has rushed Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh to the Maldives ahead of Saturday's repeat presidential elections to try and get all political parties to agree on not derailing the process this time to prevent instability in the island nation.

Singh, who will face her first crisis management assignment as foreign secretary, is due to meet all candidates and their party heads on Thursday. She will also meet President Mohammed Waheed, who has withdrawn from the race.

The urgency stems from the fact that November 11 is the cut-off for the country to have a new president. The process stands completed if the first round of voting produces a winner with 50 per cent or more votes.

However, if no candidate crosses the halfway mark, like it happened last month, there will be a run-off between the top two contenders. This run-off, if required, will be on November 4.

This is a cause for concern because one of the candidates who finished third last month, Qasim Ibrahim, objected to the run-offs and went to court claiming he would have come second after Mohammed Nasheed if not for unfair electoral practices.

The Supreme Court went on to annul the vote and order fresh elections. Saturday's vote is in line with this, but the fear is that new obstacles by way of complaints and court orders could invite strong reactions from key players in the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth.

It is in this backdrop that Singh is making a daylong visit. India had last month said the vote had been deemed fair by most international observers and annulling it may have been harsh.

Much of the political space in the Maldives, sources said, is divided between those in favour of Nasheed and those against. As a result, the Waheed regime may have found an opportunity to cling to power while the election process remains inconclusive.

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