Maldives Hit by Political Upheaval Once Again

Supreme Court’s decision to annul election results seen as an attempt to prevent ousted President from returning to office

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In this photograph taken on Sept. 7, 2013, Maldivian former President and Presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed smiles as he casts his vote at a local polling station in Male

Maldivians are getting ready to go to the polls this week — again. Last week, the Supreme Court threw the archipelago nation into upheaval when it annulled the results from the Sept. 7 presidential election, calling for a new vote that has been set for Oct. 19.

Mohamed Nasheed, the opposition leader and former president who was ousted in a 2012 coup, won 45% of the vote in the September ballot, just short of the 50% needed to avoid a run-off with Abdulla Yameen, who came in second at 25%. By law, the two would have faced a run-off, but after the court ruling, a totally new vote will be held. The Maldives‘ current president, and Nasheed’s successor, Mohamed Waheed withdrew from the race after winning only 5% of the vote.

Whether the results of the new poll will be final is unclear. Recent political events in the conservative Muslim archipelago, famous worldwide as a destination for five-star beach resorts, does not bode well for the democratic process. The p.r.-savvy Nasheed — he once held a Cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention to the low-lying nation’s vulnerability climate change — was the Maldives’ first leader to be freely elected in 2008 after three decades of rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. (Yameen, the candidate currently in second place, is Gayoom’s half brother.)

While in power, Nasheed ruffled feathers by, among other things, increasing taxes and attempting to privatize the international airport in the capital Male and awarding the operational contract to an Indian firm. Ultimately, however, it was the arrest and detention of a top judge while he was in office that led to Nasheed’s fall from power. In February 2012, under pressure from security forces, Nasheed resigned in what his supporters called a coup and a blow to the fledgling democracy. “You can get rid of a dictator, but you can’t get rid of a dictatorship,” Nasheed told TIME a few months after stepping down.

The Supreme Court’s Oct. 7 court decision to annul the election result seems a not-so-veiled attempt to keep Nasheed, who was poised to win the Sept. 28 run-off, from returning to office. Nasheed had expressed concerns before the September ballot that the same parties that pushed him out in 2012 may interfere with elections in 2013. On Oct. 7, a television station that sympathized with Nasheed’s opposition party was set ablaze by masked men.

It is Maldivians, of course, who must decide if Nasheed deserves a second chance or not. The Court ruling came in response to a petition submitted by candidate Qasim Ibrahim, a wealthy businessman who came in third in the first round of the election; Ibrahim alleged that there were flaws in the vote (observers at home and abroad reported that it was fair). “The international community recognized the outcome of the first round on 7th September as inclusive and credible,” Catherine Aston, the European Union’s representative for foreign affairs, said in an Oct.8 statement. She urged that, in the new poll, the “will of the people be respected.”