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New election in Maldives in doubt as challengers dither over list

Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed (C), who was ousted as president in 2012, addresses his supporters at a political rally in
Maldivian presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed (C), who was ousted as president in 2012, addresses his supporters at a political rally in

By Dinuka Liyanawatte and J.J. Robinson

MALE (Reuters) - Hopes that a presidential election in the Maldives would go ahead on the weekend faded on Friday with a new voter registry not ready because of objections from challengers to the country's first democratically elected leader.

The Indian Ocean archipelago of tropical holiday islands has been in turmoil since February last year when Mohamed Nasheed, who in 2008 won the Maldives' first free elections, was ousted in disputed circumstances that his supporters called a coup.

Nasheed looked set to win a run-off vote on September 28, after he came first in a September 7 first round, but the Supreme Court called off the vote, citing first-round fraud.

The election was re-scheduled for Saturday but Election Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek said it was in question as the parties of two contestants who lost last time had yet to sign a new voter registry.

"We have sent people to party officials houses but there is no answer and they are not answering their phones either," Thowfeek told reporters.

"There is doubt if we can proceed ... We urge them to sign the lists. The election is now in their hands."

In 2008, Nasheed defeated Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who had ruled for 30 years and was accused by opponents and international human rights groups of running the country as a dictator.

Abdulla Yameen, a half-brother of Gayoom, came second in a first-round vote on September 7 and was due to go up against Nasheed in the September 28 run-off which the Supreme Court called off even though international observers said voting had been largely free and fair.

Nasheed's party has signed the voter registry and he called for the vote to go ahead on Saturday.

"We believe the voter registry is correct and we are ready to vote with that list," Nasheed said in a Twitter message.

"NO FURTHER DELAYS"

But the party's of his two main challengers, Yameen and resort tycoon Gasim Ibrahim, who was the finance minister Under Gayoom, said they needed to verify at least some of the names on the registry.

Giant neighbor India and various Western countries have called on the administration of outgoing President Mohamed Waheed, who came to power when Nasheed was ousted last year, to hold the election as scheduled, freely and fairly.

"It's important that there are no further delays and that the democratic process goes ahead, with free, fair and inclusive elections to allow a new president to be inaugurated by November 11," John Ranking, British High Commissioner for the Maldives John Ranking, told reporters in Sri Lanka on Tuesday.

November 11 is when the current presidential term expires and a new one should be installed by then.

India's foreign secretary, Sujatha Singh, travelled to the Maldives on Thursday to press for the election to be held as scheduled. He called for the constitution to be upheld.

A rise in Islamist ideology, human rights abuses and a lack of investor confidence after Waheed's government cancelled the country's biggest foreign investment project with India's GMR Infrastructure are among the critical issues the new president will face.

Nasheed, who once held a cabinet meeting under water, with members in scuba gear, to highlight the danger of a rising sea level, won the September 7 polls with 45.45 percent of the vote, short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off.

Tension has been high in recent weeks. Men in masks fire-bombed a television station that backs Nasheed on October 7.

(Additional reporting Ranga Sirilal in Colombo; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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