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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 January, 2005, 17:16 GMT
Maldives democracy plans welcomed
A Maldivian woman casts her ballot in Maldives parliamentary elections in Male.
The Maldives does not have any political parties
Opposition leaders in the Maldives have welcomed plans by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to establish multi-party democracy within a year.

They said they were happy the president had committed to a reform timetable.

"Now we can remind him from time to time about his promise," a Maldivian Democratic Party spokesman said.

Mr Gayoom's remarks follow elections to parliament in which opposition-backed candidates have won about 10 of 22 seats provisionally announced.


"This is very welcome," said Ibrahim Ismail, a senior MDP leader who won a seat in the capital, Male, in Saturday's vote.

I am very happy that the president has committed himself to a timeframe
MDP spokesman Mohamed Latheef

"Now we can have benchmarks and agree on a timetable to carry out the reforms and have a joint committee to monitor the implementation."

Mr Ismail was among a number of people imprisoned for an alleged coup plot last August.

Charges against him and three other key dissidents were dropped as part of an amnesty following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December.

The election was delayed for three weeks by the tsunami, in which 82 people were killed in the Maldives.

Some sceptical observers believe the president's democracy plans might be aimed at trying to buy time.

Opponents accuse him of being an autocrat, and he has frequently denied allegations of human rights abuses.

'Sweeping changes'

Mr Gayoom, who came to power in 1978, is Asia's longest-serving political leader.

He had previously announced reforms, including introducing a prime minister and a directly-elected president, but had set no timeline.

On Monday he told the AFP news agency: "The time is right for more sweeping changes.

"That is why I have proposed a new package of reform in which I envisage a multi-party political system, as well as the office of the prime minister, a supreme court and also that the president should be elected directly by the people.

"I think within one year's time we should be able to complete the constitutional reform process."

With political parties, in effect, barred in the Maldives, the 149 candidates contesting Saturday's election stood as independents.

Forty-two members in the 50-seat parliament are elected. Eight are nominated by the president. Final results are expected this week.

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