Police in Maldives halted Saturday's rescheduled presidential elections as former President Mohamed Nasheed appeared set to return to power. Nasheed, who was elected president in 2008 in the nation's first democratic elections, had to leave office in February 2012 after what his supporters claimed was a coup.
Fresh elections to pick a new president were held Sept. 7, when Nasheed won 45 percent of the vote. But a runoff could not be held as the results were annulled by the Supreme Court.
Saturday's rescheduled elections were stopped by police just before polling was to begin.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement, expressed concern over the latest developments and called on all concerned to respect the democratic process and ensure that the elections are held at the earliest "so that a new president can be inaugurated on Nov. 11 in accordance with the Constitution."
"The aspirations and the will of the Maldivian people were expressed in the 88 per cent participation of eligible voters in the Sept. 7 election. The Secretary-General strongly believes that the legitimate will of the people should not be denied," said the statement, issued by Ban's office.
Whoever is elected president will replace Mohamed Waheed Hassan, whose term ends in November. Waheed came to power after Nasheed had to leave office but is not running again.
The New York Times quoted election commission officials as saying the rescheduled elections Saturday could not be held, as police surrounded their office in the capital Male. The report quoted police as saying the polls could not proceed as some candidates had not approved the voter rolls.
The developing situation has raised more questions about whether democracy can take hold in a nation of 350,000, which -- until the first elections in 2008 -- had been under an autocratic regime for about 30 years.
The BBC said Nasheed called for fresh presidential polls to be held under a caretaker leader and asked Waheed to resign so the parliamentary speaker can oversee new elections.
Nasheed accused Waheed of trying to obstruct the elections "to take this country into a constitutional void and then capture power."
India, a close neighbor, has extensive contacts with Maldives. The United States and Britain also keep an eye on developments in the island nation because of its strategic location along major sea lanes and concerns about reports of radicalization of some of its predominantly Muslim population.
The Indian foreign ministry expressed concern over the latest developments while the U.S. Embassy official in Sri Lanka said the election delay "represents a real threat to democracy in the Maldives," the BBC reported.
The New York Times quoted Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, a spokesman for Nasheed's party, as saying the police, judiciary and security forces in Maldives remain sympathetic to the former autocratic leader, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
"There is a mandate developing for the international community to intervene and restrain these undemocratic forces," Ghafoor said. "We are in no man's land right now."
The elections may now be held Nov. 2.