AP Explains: Why elections hold key for Maldives’ future

NEW DELHI (AP) – The Maldives is holding its third multiparty presidential elections on Sunday. The Indian Ocean nation of 400,000 has been rife with political turmoil since democracy was introduced just a decade ago.

Famed for its white sand beaches and luxury resorts, the Maldives under President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who is seeking re-election, has seen economic growth and longer life expectancy, according to the World Bank. But Yameen’s critics say he has systematically rolled back democratic freedoms, jailing rivals and controlling courts. Like elsewhere in South Asia, China has made fast inroads into the Maldives with aid and investment, challenging India’s long-held position as the dominant regional power.

A look at the Maldives, and why elections there matter:

A Maldivian man walks past an election campaign office of Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his running mate Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Yameen's only contender in Sunday's election is longtime lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian man walks past an election campaign office of Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his running mate Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Yameen's only contender in Sunday's election is longtime lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian man walks past an election campaign office of Maldivian President Yameen Abdul Gayoom and his running mate Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Yameen’s only contender in Sunday’s election is longtime lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

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THREATENED BY RISING SEAS

The Maldives is a low-lying archipelago in South Asia formed from a chain of about 1,200 coral islands grouped in 26 atolls in the Indian Ocean, 430 kilometers (265 miles) southwest of India. The reefs, less than a meter (3.2 feet) above the sea, attract scuba divers from around the world, but they’re also threatened by rising temperatures and sea levels. Former President Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater Cabinet meeting in 2009 to highlight the threat of climate change.

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VICIOUS POLITICS

The Maldives was a British protectorate until 1965. The centuries-old sultanate was restored again a year later until 1968. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom came to power in 1978 through a public referendum, ruling with an iron fist until 2008. That year, Mohamed Nasheed became the country’s first freely elected president. But Nasheed was forced to resign and later was sentenced to a 13-year prison term. He was later granted asylum in the United Kingdom when he traveled there for medical treatment, and continues to live in exile. Nasheed was succeeded by his running mate, Mohamed Waheed Hasan. The current President Yameen, Gayoom’s half brother, won in 2013. His former vice president, Ahmed Adeeb, Gayoom, two ex-defense ministers, a prosecutor general and opposition lawmakers are among those who have been jailed during Yameen’s five-year tenure. All of the trials have been criticized for alleged lack of fairness. With Nasheed ineligible to run in Sunday’s elections because of his conviction, the opposition joined forces around longtime lawmaker Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Yameen’s only contender.

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IMPLICATIONS

The opposition and outside observers have cautioned that because of Yameen’s tight control of government institutions, the elections Sunday could be rigged. The European Union canceled plans to send observers after determining that the Maldives had not met the conditions for monitoring. The U.S. has threatened to sanction Maldivian officials if the elections are not free and fair. Nasheed told reporters in Colombo on Friday that the elections are critical for stability in the Indian Ocean, where he said a “cold war was brewing” between India and China. Gulbin Sultana, a researcher on the Maldives at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analyses based in New Delhi, said that if Yameen is re-elected, the state of democracy is unlikely to improve. “That will probably mean the media, the people opposing the government will have to suffer more,” she said.

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Associated Press writer Krishan Francis in Colombo, Sri Lanka, contributed to this report.

A Maldivian election worker prepares poll material at the election commissioner's office center in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian election worker prepares poll material at the election commissioner's office center in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian election worker prepares poll material at the election commissioner’s office center in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policemen stand guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policemen stand guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policemen stand guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Police raided the main campaign office of the opposition presidential candidate on Saturday, the eve of an election viewed as a referendum on whether democracy will survive in the country. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Police raided the main campaign office of the opposition presidential candidate on Saturday, the eve of an election viewed as a referendum on whether democracy will survive in the country. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Police raided the main campaign office of the opposition presidential candidate on Saturday, the eve of an election viewed as a referendum on whether democracy will survive in the country. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A Maldivian policeman stands guard in front of the building housing the election office of the opposition presidential candidate in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Maldives police say they have raided the main campaign office of opposition presidential candidate on eve of election. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, center, jumps as he walks in a street march with supporters in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, center, jumps as he walks in a street march with supporters in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Maldives’ opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, center, jumps as he walks in a street march with supporters in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday’s election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldivian president Yameen Abdul Gayoom cheer as they take part in a street parade in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldivian president Yameen Abdul Gayoom cheer as they take part in a street parade in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldivian president Yameen Abdul Gayoom cheer as they take part in a street parade in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. The country will hold its third-ever multiparty presidential election on Sunday. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih walk in a street march in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih walk in a street march in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

Supporters of Maldives’ opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih walk in a street march in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday’s election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A supporter of Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih displays a victory symbol in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A supporter of Maldives' opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih displays a victory symbol in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday's election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

A supporter of Maldives’ opposition presidential candidate Ibrahim Mohamed Solih displays a victory symbol in Male, Maldives, Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. Solih, the only contender in Sunday’s election against incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom, is backed by former President Mohamed Nasheed who is now living in exile in neighboring Sri Lanka. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

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