By J.J Robinson

MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives will go ahead with a presidential election run-off on September 28, election commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek said on Thursday, despite a decision by the Supreme Court to postpone the second round following a complaint of vote rigging.

Thowfeek's comments followed mounting international pressure on the government to push ahead with a run-off, amid hopes it could end political turmoil in the Indian Ocean archipelago.

The first round of voting, on September 7, was won by ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, whose removal from power 20 months ago ignited months of unrest.

He secured 45.45 percent in the first round, short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory, and his party promptly announced mass protests against the postponement.

In second place was Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of long-time ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and just behind him in third was Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who was finance minister under Gayoom.

It was Gasim's Jumhoory Party (JP) that asked the Supreme Court to annul the first round result, alleging voting irregularities, a move that Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) dismissed as unconstitutional.

Whether the second round will be held on September 28 remains to be seen. Although the MDP controls parliament, the police have already informed the election commission that they will abide by the Supreme Court ruling.

Any postponement could trigger a constitutional crisis, political analysts said, as the run-off must be held within three weeks of the first round.

Nasheed, who served for three years as the Maldives' first democratically elected president, was forced from office in February 2012 when mutinying police and soldiers armed opposition demonstrators and gave him an ultimatum.

Protests by his supporters were met with a heavy police crackdown that tarnished the Maldives' image as a tranquil holiday paradise.

Political analysts and human rights campaigners say the islands have been in political and economic limbo ever since.

Critical challenges facing the next president include a rise in Islamist ideology, human rights abuses and a lack of investor confidence after the government cancelled the Maldives' biggest foreign investment project with India's GMR Infrastructure GMRI.NS.

(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal and Shihar Aneez; editing by Mike Collett-White)

 

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