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Maldives president headed toward runoff

  • Story Highlights
  • Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party running second
  • Election commission says it could not immediately say how many people voted
  • Voting was the first multiparty elections in Maldives' history
  • Gayoom considered a hero by many, authoritarian by others
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By Saeed Ahmed
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(CNN) -- Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who was seeking a seventh five-year term, appeared headed for a runoff in the country's first ever multiparty elections, according to preliminary results.

Votes from 270 of 390 ballot boxes showed Gayoom in the lead, the election commission told CNN Thursday morning. But he did not have an outright majority.

Gayoom's fiercest critic, Mohamed Nasheed of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, was running second.

The commission will announce its final results about 11:30 p.m. (2 p.m. ET). If no one garners 50 percent of the votes, a runoff will be held within 10 days.

The commission said it could not immediately say how many people voted. More than 200,000 Maldivians out of a population of 386,000 were registered.

While voting went smoothly in most parts of the Indian Ocean nation -- an archipelago of almost 1,200 coral island south-southeast of India -- some residents complained that they were told their names were not on the voter registration list, said Ibrahim Wahyeed, a reporter with the independent newspaper, Haama Daily.

The problem was sorted out later, and those residents were allowed to vote, the commission said.

International observers monitored the elections, which were a referendum for Gayoom, who came to power in 1978 and has ruled the nation for 30 years.

He had won six previous elections as the only candidate on the ballot, but in this election five candidates challenged Gayoom for the presidency.

Many Maldivians consider the 71-year-old Gayoom a hero who has transformed a fishing culture into a tourist nation whose white sandy beaches lure well-heeled Western tourists.

Gayoom's critics contend that the president has ruled with an iron fist, crushing dissent, amassing wealth and stacking his administration with friends and relatives. They say he instituted democratic reforms and legalized political parties only after violent protests in 2004 and 2005.

Opponents argue that his legacy is of a country grappling with unemployment, crime, drugs and corruption.

Shortly before election day, an auditor's report said millions of dollars were improperly accounted for by Gayoom's government. He disputed the findings.

Gayoom said he needed a few more years in power to see through the reforms he has put in place.

In January, a man tried to stab Gayoom with a knife wrapped in a national flag. A teenage boy jumped in and prevented the attack.

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