Male, Aug 19 (IANS) The island nation of the Maldives Sunday opted for a presidential form of government in a historic referendum held as a run-up to multiparty elections next year.
With less than 50 of the 433 ballot boxes remaining to be opened, results showed that 93,042 votes or more than 60 percent of the total votes polled supported a presidential system of government as against 57,109 votes for a Westminster-style multiparty parliamentary democracy.
Over 150,000 of the 370,000 citizens were eligible to vote in the referendum. There are over 9,000 non-resident Indians in this South Asian archipelago.
Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia's longest serving leader, has been ruling the Indian Ocean nation for nearly three decades.
Gayoom wants a presidential system of government, akin to the US, with a two five-year term limit on the presidency.
However, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says the only way to a clean and accountable government is to introduce a multi-party political system with a prime minister answerable to parliament.
Though the election commission is yet to officially declare the result, the spokesman of the ruling Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (DRP), Ibrahim Shiafu, was quoted as saying by the Minivan News online newspaper, 'Yes, I think so. Yes, we have won.'
But there have been reports of irregularities and it is reported that voter turnout is likely to exceed the number of voters on the poll register.
The election commission, according to Minivan News, has acknowledged the first cases of malpractice at Hitadhoo in Addu atoll. This irregularity has also been formally recognised by the special parliamentary committee set up to oversee the referendum.
There have been problems with two ballot boxes in Hitadhoo. While a revote has been ordered for one box, another box has been brought to capital Male for a recount of votes in the presence of a special parliamentary committee.
However, two boxes are unlikely to affect the overall result of the referendum.
The election commission has said it will officially announce the result of the referendum after the problems in Hitadhoo are resolved.
The referendum is designed to attract more western aid to the nation, known for its pristine beaches and coral reefs, and is being closely watched by Britain, the country's largest foreign donor.
As of now, the Maldives is a presidential republic, with the president as the head of the government. The president heads the executive branch and appoints the cabinet.
The president is nominated for a five-year term by a secret ballot of the parliament called Majlis, a nomination confirmed by national referendum.
Gayoom unveiled an ambitious package of political reforms in 2005, designed to bring 'liberal, modern democracy' to the island nation.
In July 2005, six months after the last elections in the country, political parties were introduced for the first time. Over 35 members of parliament joined the Dhivehi Raiyyathunge Party (Maldivian People's Party) and elected Gayoom as its leader. Twelve members joined the opposition MDP. Two members remained independent.
In March 2006, Gay