Page last updated at 12:18 GMT, Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Maldives holds election run-off

A woman in Maldives casts her ballot on October 28 2008
Other opposition candidates have backed Mohamed Nasheed

The people of the Maldives have voted in the run-off of the country's first democratic presidential election.

Asia's longest-serving leader, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, is facing former political prisoner and pro-democracy leader Mohamed Nasheed.

President Gayoom won the first round earlier this month, but failed to secure the 50% needed for outright victory over Mr Nasheed.

Both candidates say they are confident of victory.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Male says that a preliminary result in the vote is expected on Wednesday - but it may take up to a week before the election commission completely verifies it.

Polling has now closed.

Our correspondent says that there is an atmosphere of excitement in the cramped island capital of Male - a jumble of concrete apartment blocks - and on outlying atolls scattered across the deep blue sea.

'Big disparity'

The campaigning was noisy with rallies late into Sunday night and parades of trucks and taxis in the narrow streets of Male as the people of the Maldives enjoyed what for them is a new experience.

Opposition candidates who were knocked out are now supporting Mr Nasheed, known as Anni.

"There is a very big disparity between the rich and the poor, the gap is very, very wide. There is a very big housing shortage. There's an acute drug problem. Inflation is rampant," he told the BBC.

"This form of government has reached its capacity in delivering. We really need to change. This is a very rich country. We have a lot of natural resources. Fish is abundant. Tourism is excellent. So we should be able to have a better life here."

President Gayoom has ruled the Maldives since 1978 and claims credit for making the country South Asia's most prosperous, largely thanks to tourists who come for the white sandy beaches and turquoise lagoons.

He began a reform programme following international criticism of his suppression of street protests in 2004.

Reasons to win

This is the first time President Gayoom has allowed competition in an election.

Mohamed Nasheed has said he is a dictator and a has-been sultan, and that the Maldives needs change.

Woman walks past electoral poster for President Gayoom in Male on 26/10/08
President Gayoom hopes a win will vindicate his years in power

When asked how it felt, to be standing, potentially, on the brink of power after years spent in the pro-democracy struggle, Mr Nasheed said it was "heart lifting", especially after he had been tortured twice and spent numerous days in solitary confinement.

But President Gayoom remains confident of victory too.

"I need five more years for one thing to complete my reform agenda. I want it to be my legacy to the country that the country enjoys a full democratic system," he said while campaigning in the far north of the archipelago.

Both men going into this election have deep personal reasons for wanting to win.

Our correspondent says that winning the presidency of the Maldives would be the culmination of Mohamed Nasheed's long campaign for democracy.

For President Gayoom victory would be a vindication of his decades in power.

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