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Tourism workers in the Maldives have been urged to go on strike should the second round of the country’s presidential elections, scheduled for Saturday, not take place.
Mohamed Nasheed, the former president who was overthrown in an alleged coup last year, made the appeal this week after the Maldives Supreme Court ordered an indefinite postponement of the polls.
“I call on tourist workers to strike if there is no election on Saturday. For everyone to strike,” he told tourism workers on Monday evening. “There is an election scheduled on Saturday – whether that election happens or not is in one sense in your hands and mine.”
Mr Nasheed of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008, received 45 per cent of the vote in the opening round and was expected to be re-elected this weekend.
He had been due to face a run-off against Abdulla Yameen of the Progressive Party of Maldives, which was founded by Maumoon Gayoom, the country’s autocratic ruler from 1978 to 2008, after Mr Yameen polled 25 per cent in the opening round of voting.
But the third-placed candidate in the first round, Qasim Ibrahim of the Jumhooree Party, one of the country’s richest businessmen and owner of several luxury holiday resorts, asked the court to annul the result, alleging electoral fraud.
The MDP condemned the court’s decision “to abrogate the will of the people and disrupt the constitution,” in a statement last week, while the Maldives Association for Tourism Industries (MATI) warned of “irreparable consequences” to tourism in the archipelago should elections not go ahead. Yesterday the European Union and the Commonwealth also put pressure on the Maldives to go ahead with the vote.
Tourism accounts for around a third of the country’s GDP, and since the overthrow of Mr Nasheed several calls have been made for travellers to stop visiting the islands.
Mr Nasheed himself urged a complete tourism boycott last year, before issuing a revised plea for holidaymakers to avoid resorts whose owners he claimed were responsible for his downfall. The UK-based campaign group Friends of Maldives has made similar calls, while Amnesty International has used the country’s idyllic tourism image to highlight alleged human rights abuses with the publication of a pamphlet entitled “Another Side of Paradise”.
The sentencing of a 15-year-old girl to 100 lashes for premarital sex earlier this year – a sentence later quashed – led to further calls for travellers to steer clear. The girl had reportedly confessed to police investigating accusations that she had been raped by her stepfather and abused by other local men.